Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.
For a long time, I would argue with people about carbonara. I would tell anyone who would listen that there is only one way to do carbonara is with guanciale, a whole egg, Parmesan and black pepper. That's it. Only those four things, mixed together in perfect harmony with slightly al dente spaghetti.
Keep your peas, your mushrooms, your cream and your bacon out of it.
But then...well...then I had the spaghetti carbonara at Coppa Osteria and I started to change my tune.
Chef Brandi Key's carbonara isn't exactly the traditional version that I used to preach. In fact, when I first saw the ingredients list on the menu, I scoffed. Salumi toscano? Egg yolk? Parmesan cream? All wrong. I ordered it anyway that first time to prove to myself that I was right and the chef was wrong, only it turned out to be the other way around.
No, it's not a traditional carbonara, but the combination of flavors amounts to essentially the same thing without the concern of the egg coagulating or the cheese failing to coat every strand of pasta. It's mixed tableside, too, for added drama.
When the bowl arrives at the table, it's filled with a mound of slightly twirled spaghetti dotted with flecks of black pepper and parsley and shavings of salume toscano in place of the traditional guanciale. The shiny golden yolk of a single egg sits delicately atop the nest of pasta and wispy shreds of Parmesan cheese. Before you have time to take it all in, a server drizzles the Parmesan cream on top and stirs the entire dish with two forks, incorporating the raw egg yolk quickly so it cooks in the heat of the fresh pasta.
It's far from a traditional version, but it's what Key credits with landing her the job at Coppa Ristorante back when it first opened. It's a unique take on a classic dish, and though many might, as I initially did, scoff at the reinvention of something that definitely ain't broke, I suggest you give it a try.
After all, it's pretty hard to go wrong with fresh pasta, cream, cheese and pork.
The list so far: No. 78, The Outdoorsman at Pi Pizza Truck No. 79, Campechana de Mariscos at Goode Co. Seafood No. 80, Whole Fried Fish at Churrascos No. 81, Daughter-in-Law Burger at Natachee's Supper 'n Punch No. 82, Chiles en Nogada Tradicionales at Pico's Mex-Mex No. 83, Porkobuco at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 84, Chai Pie at Pondicheri No. 85, Tacos at Taqueria Maya Quiché No. 86, S'mores at 13 Celsius No. 87, Calamari at Lillo & Ella No. 88, Pulled Pork Nachos at Way Good Food Truck No. 89, Garden Sammie at Local Foods No. 90, Barbecued Salmon Salad at Brooks Family BBQ No. 91, Smoked Salmon Waffle at The Waffle Bus No. 92, Chirashi Lunch at Sushi Miyagi No. 93, Finocchiona Sandwich at Siphon Coffee No. 94, Combo Catracho at Mi Bella Honduras Restaurant No. 95, Tamal de Puerco at Andes Cafe No. 96, Cheeseburger at Sparkle's Hamburger Spot No. 97, Mi Quang at Simply Pho No. 98, Helado de Lúcuma at Pollo Bravo No. 99, Fat Fries at Fat Bao No. 100, Fish Bánh Mì at La Baguette