355 W 46th St
(between 8th Ave & 9th Ave)
New York, NY 10036
Just last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Nicole (her review here and here), who was in town for work, for dinner at Becco. It was a drizzly and humid September evening, but we ducked under the Becco awning and was welcomed into the loving Italian arms of Lidia Bastianich – ok not her in person, but her restaurant staff anyway.
Without too much deliberation (ok there was some as the menu was full of Italian goodies – osso buco, veal chop parm, etc), we opted for the renowned pasta tasting – that’s an appetizer and 3 unlimited pastas. That’s right – 2 rather petite girls, and 6 pastas. Talk about every carb-lovers heaven!
So after the bread basket, olives, Caesar salad (very pungent/prominent anchovy btw), the pasta trio started with a stinging nettle gnudi in butter sage sauce. A couple of surprises – stinging nettle is typically harvested in the spring, and as the name suggests – are quite prickly and can cause quite the allergic reaction if not properly handled. Nettle must be cooked for quite a bit before its stinging properties/chemicals are broken down – and once cooked, it is similar to spinach (though I think less bitter). In Becco’s presentation, the nettle is cooked into a pasta filling of cheese and other seasonings. Gnudi is essentially ‘naked gnocchi’, or a pillowy pasta filling without the carby/doughy shell. It’s soft just like gnocchi, but less dense without the doughy potato. Combined with the browned butter sage sauce, the cute little gnudi were delectable – I believe Nicole and I both asked for seconds of the gnudi.
Our second pasta tasting was of tomato sauce penne pasta. While good, this wasn’t particularly striking nor memorable, but it did look so pretty next to the little green gnudi on my plate.
Our final pasta was a homemade tagliatelle drenched in cuminy ground veal sauce. While I applause the efforts, I personally had a few issues with this dish. (1) The pasta noodles were often clumped or stuck to each other, which meant that several pieces were definitely shy of al dente. While the texture was amusing (Nicole didn’t mind at all), I’m positive, the noodles could have used a bit more oil to de-stick, as well as a few more seconds in the pot. (2) I really like veal, but I felt that the veal sauce was not bold enough to stand next to so wide/large of an egg pasta noodle. I think tagliatelle is best served with a thick and very saucy accompaniment, so this thin and drab veal did not cut it for me.
However, redemption came in the form of dessert. Tenderly enveloped under a flaky strudel crust, summer ripened plums and all their warm, syrupy juices beckoned to be smothered in creamy vanilla ice cream. The plums were still tart and held up nicely next to the fragrant ice cream and crunchy pastry. It was the perfect dessert for a stormy summer night.
Over plates and plates of pastas and bread, Nicole and I recalled all those fun times as undergrads at Cal, remembered all those boys we (mostly she!!) had dated, relished our good fortunes and realized how incredibly lucky and content we are now. Life may take us many places, far, far away from our old friends. But old friendships only need some good, hearty food and maybe a round of wine to warm up up again.