100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 40, Canestri alla Funghi at Paulie's
The canestri alla funghi at Paulie's is so good, you won't want to share.
Photo by Christina Uticone
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
I'm pretty sure the regular serving of pasta at Paulie's is meant to be shared. It's a rather hefty plate of food no matter which dish you order, so it lends itself well to being spilt between two people with some side salads.
That said, I've been known to devour an entire regular-sized serving of canestri alla funghi all on my own. And rather than feeling stuffed to the gills when I finish, I have a great sense of accomplishment, like I've just vanquished a worthy opponent.
And man, is that divine dish ever worthy.
All of the pasta at Paulie's is made fresh in-house, by a pasta extruder that pops out the prettiest little canestri and bucatini you've ever seen. The fresh pasta is, of course, part of what makes this dish so good. The rest is the sauce and the two varieties of earthy mushrooms that endow the pasta with a beautiful, rustic fragrance.
The dish makes use of both crimini and shiitake mushrooms for a slight variance in the flavor profile. The crimini mushrooms provide a soothing, mellow taste, while the shiitake mushrooms have a meaty, slightly sour umami flavor that permeates the sauce.
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The pasta extruder makes fresh canestri every day.
Photo courtesy Paulie's
The sauce has a cream base with a bit of funky-sweet marsala wine, sage and a whole lotta garlic. The garlic isn't overpowering, though; it manages to be front and center without detracting from the subtle sage and soft cream evident in every bite.
In many mushroom and pasta dishes, the fungi and the noodles take on a similar texture, making them difficult to distinguish when they're all slathered in sauce. At Paulie's, though, the mushrooms maintain a chewy bite, and the pasta is cooked to an ideal al dente. There's just the right amount of sauce, too. Not so little that each bite contains more dough flavor than anything else, and not so much that the delicate canestri curls are swimming in cream.
The canestri alla funghi is a perfectly balanced blend of richness and earthiness, drawn together with just a hint of marsala. Go ahead and order the small portion if you want. But I guarantee you'll be more satisfied with a big serving of pasta all to yourself.
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