The carbonara arrived on my table with a dollop of bacon-dotted, jaundice-colored cream atop overly cooked spaghetti noodles. When I moved the plate, the mound of cream didn’t even jiggle, as if it had been heat-lamp baked for hours, hoping some fool like me was going to come in and order it. I had ordered the carbonara, not just because I love this pasta dish, but because I was reviewing a restaurant for a magazine (the restaurant didn’t fare too well in my review). I wasn’t in Rome, from whence the dish hails. I wasn’t even in Italy. I was in New York.
That’s not to say that Italian cuisine outside of Italy can’t be good. It certainly can. Carbonara is a simple dish. Just pasta, eggs, guanciale (or pancetta), garlic, parmigiano, and black pepper. But, as I found out, it’s not necessarily easy to make buonissimo, as the Italians would say.
Case in point: I was in Rome last week. And given that I’m so carbonara crazed and hadn’t been in Rome for five years, I decided I’d put myself on a mini quest: I’d try to seek out the best carbonara I could find. There were, though, parameters that were out of my control: I was filming a documentary about my book. The days were long and we would finish shooting around 10 p.m. every night. Not a lot of time to figure out a good place to eat. The film crew left it up to me to find a good restaurant in whatever neighborhood we finished shooting for the day. A challenge, for sure.