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September 30, 2009

Arguing about carbonara is a waste of time

STW%20Pig%20Carbonara.jpgWho knew our old friend and Shallow Thought guest poster John Lindner knew how to speak pig Latin? EL

Degustibus carbonara non est disputandum ad hoc tiempo dingus*

And I thought I was arrogant.

Well, I am. But I’m no Guardian. That august organ recently presented the “50 best things to eat and the 50 best places to eat them.”

Case closed… finally.

The article humbled me as it forced me to admit I’m simply not shameless enough to compete in world-class triumphalism. ...

* Arguing about carbonara is a waste of time

It also reminded me of a meal I enjoyed recently at Luigi’s in Washington DC. I ordered the carbonara.

(Token review: Good food, attentive service, cool building, yearn to return, subtract one star for its failure to be located in Baltimore.)

Aside from the first forkful of Luigi’s carbonara, which seemed way too salty –- as in, take it back, shoot the cook, I’ll catch a bite at the Highs on my way home –- the dish was wonderful. I wanted more. However…

Luigi’s isn’t the best carbonara I’ve ever had. Or it is. The best carbonara I’ve had was at the Pasta Tree. Or it wasn’t.

The two restaurants present dishes that are quite different, yet they’re both recognizably carbonara, and I like both. I prefer Pasta Tree’s.

Years after moving too far away to visit Pasta Tree I learned from a Dan Rodricks article that some carbonara recipes don’t include cream. What? (“Maybe butter.” Maybe?)

Driving back home from Luigi’s the shallow thought hit me: What makes a dish the best?

Is there some sort of Platonic recipe ideal that fixes the mark immovable?

Does each dish come with a recipe that clearly and painstakingly lays out the precise steps to achieve bestness?

What, indeed, is the best carbonara? Who makes it? And would my palate recognize it as the best or would it prefer some pretender?

Is there such a thing as “the best macaroni and cheese”?

Is there some place, like the Guardian, where one can find the best and thereby establish a benchmark by which to judge all others?

(Photo: Victor Iglesias courtesy Stock.xchng)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 11:58 AM | | Comments (12)



will it really help the environment if we reduce our carbonara footprint?

Not arguring ;just stating facts.
Carbonara with cream & butter is an American concoction.

The carbonara at Pasto Grano in Hampden is fantastic. There is no cream or butter. It's a little on the breakfast-y side. But delicious.

The "best" is a matter of time, place and circumstance. Take steak, for example (which I frequently do.) Back when I was in the Army through no choice of my own, I was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. On my first weekend pass, I went to Keck's Manhattan steak house where you walked through a seedy bar into an attractive white linen restaurant. The T-bone I had that night after months of mess hall chow and C-rations was far and away the best steak of my life...until the night my daughter was born. I left Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital, smiling at total strangers on the street, and headed for Henry Stampler's on Central Park West. I'd had Stampler's sirloin before but somehow on this night the restaurant's meat merchant and chef had outdone themselves. Sitting there, glowing at the memory of the new-born infant in my wife's arms, I sipped my second martini and enjoyed the best steak in the world...until I moved to London to take a dream job that involved travel throughout Europe. In Madrid, one of my new associates took me to Casa Paco, famed for its "o sole o mio," a split butterfly steak. According to legend, Paco at one time owned a neighborhood food stall. Then the Franco regime appointed his brother Madrid's chief meat inspector. The brother would condemn the best cuts of beef, marking them with a symbol known only to Paco who would buy them onstensibly for pet food. Instead, Paco would serve glorious steaks and his food stall soon grew into one of Madrid's most popular restaurants. Was the steak I had that night really the best in the world as some European publications proclaimed? Or is the tale of Paco and his brother a reminder of the challenge of singling out a best? That everything is relative.

Wow--50 best places and I've only been to one. Which I barely remember ...

Wonderful definition of "Best" MAG, and I think you absolutely nailed it!

She's a cutie, John!

MAG, I salute you.

Laura Lee, to you I curtsy, I guess. What concision! All those questions answered with a single word.

Pettirosso, viva America, baby.

...subtract one star for its failure to be located in Baltimore.

This is a star system I can get behind.

The Always Entertaining MAG is even moreso today. I think jl brings out the best in his readers.

Why the sarcasm jl? Be nice.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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