In D.C., Trusty Carbonara Gets a Reboot

by Sean Kenniff
Antoinette Bruno
October 2014

Recipes

Restaurant

  • Graffiato
    707 6th Street Northwest
    Washington, D.C. 20001
    (202) 289-3600
    graffiatodc.com/
  • Ardeo+Bardeo
    3311 Connecticut Avenue Northwest
    Washington, D.C. 20008
    (202) 244-6750
    ardeobardeo.com/
  • Del Campo
    777 I Street Northwest
    Washington, D.C. 20001
    (202) 289-7377
    delcampodc.com

Sitting down to a warm, heaping plate of carbonara, coated in a delicate web of Parmesan, can most definitely save the day. Chef Jose Adorno of Washington, D.C.’s Graffiato describes the instant his carbonara comes together: “Finally, the perfect moment when the egg yolk solidifies just enough to adhere to the pasta like Spiderman’s superhero outfit, perfectly nappe, that beautiful sauce!”

Adorno aspired to “flip the script” on a traditional carbonara—cream, aged cheese, yolk-covered noodles, cured pork belly of some sort, and fresh peas. His rewrite changes the story line with squid ink gemelli, guanciale, egg yolk, uni, pecorino, and wasabi peas. Acting as a foil to the more traditional elements of Adorno’s carbonara, wasabi peas not only provide contrast, but intrigue as well, “adding a spicy crunch to the unctuous salty sauce.” Adorno is a classically trained chef with contemporary technique in his holster and influences from Greece, Mexico, and Puerto Rican street food. He likes another cultural allusion for his intense, luscious carbonara: “it’s a classic ’67 Shelby Mustang with a brand new para-magnetic color changing paint job—It keeps it classic and modern.”

Squid Ink Gemelli, Guanciale, Egg Yolk, Uni, and Pecorino

Squid Ink Gemelli, Guanciale, Egg Yolk, Uni, and Pecorino

Chef Jose Adorno of Graffiato – Washington, D.C.

Chef Jose Adorno of Graffiato – Washington, D.C.

Black Spaghetti Carbonara: Pork Ragu, Black Garlic, Sottocenere, English Peas, and Egg 63

Black Spaghetti Carbonara: Pork Ragu, Black Garlic, Sottocenere, English Peas, and Egg 63

Chef Matt Kuhn of Ardeo+Bardeo – Washington, D.C.

Chef Matt Kuhn of Ardeo+Bardeo – Washington, D.C.

Smoked Uni, Smoked Crab, and Smoked Caviar Carbonara

Smoked Uni, Smoked Crab, and Smoked Caviar Carbonara

Chef Victor Albisu of Del Campo – Washington, D.C.

Chef Victor Albisu of Del Campo – Washington, D.C.

Carbonara has always been one of Ardeo+Bardeo Chef Matt Kuhn’s favorite dishes. “When I look at (and eat) traditional dishes, I think, ‘How can I make this my own while keeping the integrity of the dish?’ Playing with food history, this is what makes cooking fun!” Kuhn started with squid ink as well, in his black spaghetti, using it as a point of departure. “What came to mind next were things that are black: black pepper, black garlic purée—which adds a deep richness.”

From dark to light, the pork ragu in Kuhn’s carbonara is braised in milk. The shoulder goes low and slow for eight hours with the addition of onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and Parmesan rinds. “It makes the pork very flavorful, juicy, imparting an amazing pork flavor to the milk,” says Kuhn. “We pull the pork, and any fatty parts are added back into the milk braise, which we then purée, emulsifying the fat into the sauce. It’s the base that brings the dish together. [At pick-up,] just enough sauce is added to the pasta, binding it and making very light.” The carbonara is served with a soft-yolked egg on top, which the guest breaks and mixes in before eating. The English pea garnish switches to sea beans seasonally, bringing a briny, green pop to the black spaghetti.

Chef Victor Albisu of Del Campo trades a hen egg for Sevruga caviar and uses smoke to add depth to his buttery, delicate, and decadent angel hair carbonara. He cold smokes uni, crab, and caviar with a little apple wood, but mostly bunches of dried thyme, rosemary, and oregano, using a table top smoker. “The flavors [of this dish] are surprising and harmonious. The smoke is unifying,” says Albisu. “The dried herbs add a slight woodiness or even grassy smoke flavor that works particularly well with the uni and crab.” The uni is pressed through a sieve and compounded with butter that is generously mounted on the dish at pick-up.         

This crop of carbonara in D.C. makes pasta personal, with the style and sensibility of each chef radiating from the plate. They were unexpected and yet delighted. These are the types of dishes guests remember and that keep them coming back—for the sequel. They depend on it. It’s the (super)hero of the menu. Carbonara is Spiderman.