Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Taste of the Unfamiliar

The menu comes in two printed columns. Regular menu items in computer type such as the radicchio salad are supplemented with daily changing items like kumomoto and beau soleil oysters added on as if printed from an ancient typewriter. Certain lines, like the “bucatini alla amatriciana”, are familiar to anyone that has dined at an authentic Italian restaurant. Other lines, like “bigoli, tesa, nameko” seem another food language all together. This is both the challenge, and the seduction, of Tasting Kitchen.

Like a beautifully typed taunt, the menu at the Tasting Kitchen in Venice, California sometimes dares you to ask what exactly it is that you are eating. It is not often I am completely perplexed by a menu listing. Usually I recognize enough of the listed ingredients to decode the general idea of the dish, even if one or two elements are unclear. However, on more than one occasion Tasting Kitchen has tested me and I’ve relented, giving into the intrigue of a mystery food.

One such recipe, “bigoli, tesa, nameko”, I can fairly say I had no clue what this was outside of it being listed in the pasta category. Unlike some restaurants that pride themselves in obscurity, Tasting Kitchen’s servers aren’t on a mission to impress with their knowledge of esoteric ingredients. However, if asked, they are more than willing to explain that bigoli is a whole wheat pasta, tesa a type of pork, and nameko a small mushroom, all tossed together in a butter sauce, without so much as a sprinkling of condescension.

Chef Casey Lane seems to have brought down from Portland with him the Northwest fascination with unusual ingredients and dedication to authenticity. But if there ever was a bit of that Portland food scene pretension in him (and I somehow doubt there was), some time if the California sunshine must have melted it away. The menu might puzzle on occasion, but ultimately Tasting Kitchen succeeds because no matter how strange or familiar the ingredients, the food is what it should be: delicious.

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