Monday, November 10, 2008

I am going to make it through this year

On the Wednesday after the election, DH and I had tickets to see The Mountain Goats. But we didn’t want to go! Don’t get me wrong: I love the Mountain Goats. Had I been guaranteed a place to sit and an 8:00 PM start time, I’d’ve been a menthols ad: alive with pleasure.

But we’d stayed up late on Tuesday, eager to see NC turn blue. Our fatigue was worse for the cruddy cold we couldn’t shake. Even when healthy I nod off at the hour most bands begin. The final nail in the coffin? Twinges in my back warned me not to stand for three hours.

Accepting the limitations of age is not a singular revelation. We don’t just realize we’re old and then live sensibly with the knowledge. Instead, we find ourselves surprised each time we must yield to the pull of aches or weariness.

But don’t feel bad, dear reader. We gave our tickets to the neighbor boy, whose joy (mixed with our relief) countered any lingering stabs of disappointment. When the babysitter arrived, we had new plans. Dinner out to celebrate Obama’s win, then home to a cozy fire. We headed to Panciuto in Hillsborough, a relatively new restaurant, as yet untried.

Once we walked in, we saw that the hostess’s request that we arrive before 8:00 PM was motivated by a wish to close early. We were the last table seated in a restaurant sparsely filled. Sure, Hillsborough may roll up its sidewalks at 10:00 PM, but a staff’s desire for a short night should remain unknown to the patrons. Or so says the former waitress in me.

But the restaurant had a welcoming, warm glow, and I love the concept: Italian food with a local, southern “inflection.” Bread and pasta made in-house. And a complimentary glass of prosecco to start the meal. That’s an authentic touch . . . in Rome we watched waiters dodge scooters and cars to pass around glasses of prosecco gratis to customers waiting in the streets.

Too tired to split a bottle of wine, I had a glass of a Super Tuscan red and DH had Gavi de Gavi. We shared a starter: grilled bruschetta with herbed ricotta, prosciutto, fried egg, arugula and vincotto. Fantastic! The creamy ricotta perfectly balanced the salty prosciutto and peppery arugula. The egg was remarkably fresh, with a bright, plump orange yolk; the flavor took me back to Tuscany, where we ate farm-fresh eggs just laid at La Pievena’s farm. If you’ve never had a really fresh, organic egg, you’re missing out. It’s a completely different food than the supermarket sort.

For entrees, I had the black spaghetti with shrimp, calamari, guanciale, and arugula in an oven dried tomato pesto, and DH ordered the butternut squash ravioli, shaved parmesan, wilted chard, toasted pumpkin seeds, sage, and brown butter. Since I had had black ink spaghetti with frutti di mare when we splurged at Corte Sconta in Venice (see “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Squid”), I should have anticipated my disappointment. Panciuto’s dish was too dry (oven dried tomato pesto still needs water and oil to make it silky on the noodles). Even worse, the shrimp and calamari were overcooked. Seasonally, the butternut squash ravioli scored points on ingenuity. The pasta had a respectable texture, but the sauce proved too sweet. Good choice if you like pumpkin pie for dinner.

We shared the pistachio dipped filo cannolis with ricotta-vanilla filling and chocolate ganache. They were fine. A little bland and the ganache could have been thicker, but I’m not the cannoli enthusiast in the family. DH reports that he’s had better in New Haven. One more note of authenticity: they offer espressos but no cappuccinos. As we learned in Italy, only tourists drink cappuccinos after breakfast.

Our conclusion: Panciuto could simplify its dishes and pay more attention to preparation. With its bounty of local meats, produce, and cheeses, the kitchen should rely on showcasing the ingredients without excess fuss (in other words, remove an accessory before going out). It may need more competition than Hillsborough currently provides. Without the demand of many discerning palates, a restaurant can get lazy or negligent, especially if it’s eager to shut down early. I’d return for the bruschetta but not much else.

Nevertheless, we were happy. The Mountain Goats played in the car, we went to bed early, and our mature decision to skip the show made us feel youthful in the morning. Nothing like a good night’s sleep to stoke a feeling of “yes we can.” And what do you know . . . Carolina turned the color it has always claimed to be.


Mary Louisa said...

*snif* I don't understand it. I have a tear in my eye whenever I reach the end of one of your posts. Hormones? Hunger? Homesickness? Hugs.

ncfoodie said...

Probably all three! Don't forget Hope, Habit, and Heartstrings (gently pulled).
I miss you, and I love it when you comment!

chou said...

I think your critique very pertinent. May your aches be gentle, and your winter mild!