Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Artsy Wednesday: Pastry at Sotto Sopra

In several years of "artsy" posts, I've mostly written about the way food is injected into traditional art forms - music, paintings, books, architecture. Even movies. Sometimes I write about food as art in a literal sense, like in this Matisse poster. Once I wrote about food - fried eggplant, to be specific - as performance art.

It's rare, though, for me to write about food taking on the cultural characteristics we usually ascribe to art. But something I ate last night makes me want to do just that.

Let me back up a bit. Last week, Dining Dish Dara invited me, along with a handful of other foodie writer types, to dinner at Sotto Sopra. Our meal was prepared by native Sardinian chef Daniela Useli, who has the kind of cooking resume that makes me cry with jealousy (she learned to cook after being given a book of family recipes, by her grandmother, for her eighth birthday). Everything was wonderful, but my interest was most piqued by the final course, a dessert called sebadas.

Sebadas is a traditional Sardinian dessert, pecorino-filled dough lightly fried until it's crispy then drizzled with honey. At first scent, it's a little bit boardwalk (think funnel cake) plus a touch baklava (all that honey). But after a bite, it's clear that it's something else entirely. After hearing the description, I expected the dessert to taste something like a gussied-up cheese danish. I underestimated it (although, a gussied-up cheese danish doesn't sound so bad, either). The pecorino was rich and salty and a perfect counterpoint to the sweet stickiness of the honey. And the real key, I think, was that the pastry was so lightly fried, adding a little airiness to the whole dish. The taste was entirely new to me, and really exciting.

So the "artsy," then. Certainly anybody who can create something like this dessert is an artist. It takes creativity and skill and care. But my thinking goes a little beyond that. Despite assurances from Daniela and her husband that this dish is a traditional Sardinian dessert, it feels new and fresh to an American palate. We see that in the art world, too. Certain injections of even a familiar foreign culture - Slumdog Millionaire, anyone? - are irresistable to most US culture-seekers.

This dessert did that for me. Totally foreign, but just familiar enough, it hit that sweet spot between new and comfortable. Plus, cheese + honey + fried dough? That ALWAYS = amazing.

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