Have you ordered a prensatti at La Alacena? I have. More than I would feel comfortable admitting. I’ve eaten all six options: the gateway sandwich stuffed with long slabs of grilled steak and heavy breaths of aioli; or on cool summer afternoons with blackened broccoli, sharp pecorino and gooey ricotta; or as an early merienda packed with warm slices of grilled mortadella and crunchy pickled radishes; or as the ultimate grilled cheese with parmesan and sour bursts of dijon mustard. They are best accompanied with a bowl of skinny french fries to be dunked in puckering hot sauce.
I haven’t found a prensatti at any other Italian restaurant in town. And maybe that is what distracted me from ordering a plate of pasta for so long. Because regardless of the stuffing, each and every sandwich brings forth the memories of an anonymous afternoon at my mother’s kitchen counter and the grilled cheese sandwiches she made with butter that flooded forth from every pore.
But Julieta Oriolo’s Palermo restaurant is hardly a sandwich shop, even though you technically can grab fresh baked bread in the shop attached. Sitting firmly on the corner of Gascón and Honduras for the last five years, Oriolo’s ode to pasta arrived on the scene long before a more recent return to ‘authentic’ Italian flavors — a circus procession of pizzerías across Palermo and Belgrano, countless new boutique vermouth brands and fast food pasta shops that sell handmade noodles in paper bowls. And it continues without an end in sight.
Maybe you’ve noticed the appearance of ‘nduja, a spreadable pork salume, peeking its head around on a handful of new restaurant menus. Oriolo re-popularized it at La Alacena before introducing it to the menu at her partner Hernan Calliari’s Recoleta cocktail bar, Faraday. She mixes it into the fiery pomodoro sauce that paints dense bites of gnudi — balls of ricotta mixed with semolina flour. Hopefully you have saved a small piece of salt crusted focaccia bread to wipe up all the sauce. You could use your finger, too.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You could begin the meal with crunchy strands of asparagus topped with a barely cooked country egg, fragrant sumac and whispers of dill. Or a toasted crostini made with the family’s masa madre and topped with buttery fresh peas and three types of ricotta. By this time you should have popped open a bottle of wine. I like the slightly tangy Mendozan pinot noir by Passionate Wines.
Now, it’s time for the pasta. Triangle raviolis stuffed with braised beef and topped with an earthy pate cream and pops of capers is a loud diversion from the more fragile corzetti pounded with a thick pesto sauce. Cavatelli with a mushroom cream sauce are dense and chewy, so are the larger gnochettis, rounded puffs of dough that look like beetles. Or try long strings of taglioni showered in lemon and muddled with pecorino that slurp childishly.
Much of the menu was informed by a trip across Italy. Oriolo has just returned from a similar journey. I eagerly await a menu change.
Address: Gascon 1401
Hours: Monday and Tuesday from 8:30am to 8pm, Wednesday through Friday until 11:30pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm
Price per person: varies widely