There’s a long-standing theory that I was a cat in a past life. I have a penchant for snuggling up in soft blankets in a patch of sunshine, I do (somewhat embarrassingly) enjoy my boyfriend’s lap and a good rub of the head, and I like to take “time outs,” where I simply curl up and rest with my eyes closed, half awake and half asleep. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure I don’t have nine lives. I do, however, think I may have nine stomachs. One for each course of the meal I ate Friday night.
Yes, you heard right. I had a NINE course meal. The adventure began when my friend Marcy befriended a chef down in Providence, RI, and was invited to come down to check out his restaurant. Knowing that I would probably throw a tantrum if this event occured without me, she wisely invited me to come along. We arrived at Zooma around 7:30 after a mildly fear-inducing ride through the center of a heavy rainstorm. I figure fear is good for the appetite, though — by the time we got out of the car, I was thankful to be alive and ready to indulge in some carnal pleasures. And indulge we did.
We were shown to the “Chef’s Table,” which was something akin to pulling up a bar stool to the edge of a kitchen island. Sitting side by side, we had a clear view into the kitchen and were able to meet the chefs preparing our food, as well as catch up with Chef Jeff Burgess, who was expediting orders to our left.
We started with a bottle of Crios Malbec from Argentina, and that was the last decision we made for the evening, aside from answering “Would you like another course?” with a resounding YES. And another. And another. Jeff put together a tasting menu that walked us slowly through their menu of regional Italian food. As a general rule, all of the food at Zooma is based on principles of simplicity, quality, and fresh, local ingredients. The exception that proves the rule being the buffalo mozzarella and pasta flour, which are imported from Italy, and San Marzano tomatoes during the off-season (otherwise, the tomatoes are actually grown on Zooma’s roof!)
So without further ado, our menu:
1st course: tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella with olive oil, sea salt and vin cotto
2nd course: grilled asparagus topped with an egg, shaved pecorino romano, sea salt, and olive oil
3rd course: bucatini served al dente with ramps and garlic in olive oil
4th course: handmade tagliatelle with fava beans in a light butter sauce
5th course: artichoke raviolis with braised lamb sauteed with a hint of olive oil, marinara and a mirepoix medley
6th course: pan-fried trout over an asian-inspired slaw of carrots, sauteed ramp bulbs and diced ramp tops, topped with a citrus-cilantro salad
7th course: seared sea scallops with romesco and warm spinach
8th course: rib eye steak with mashed potatoes and grilled zucchini
9th course: passion fruit and peach gelatos from Ciao Bella
Really, it was all insanely good. The mozzarella was to die for — softer, creamier and more subtle than your standard supermarket fare. The asparagus, egg and pecorino dish was one of my absolute favorites. Simplicity at its best, the asparagus was young and fresh, no doubt first of the season, and grilled to perfection, keeping its verdant color intact. It’s pretty much an ideal lunch for me, and I plan to mimic this one at home frequently. The tagliatelle and fava beans was another favorite. The butter sauce was incredibly light, especially considering that, well, it’s made of butter; a purposefully light hand when saucing the pasta helped. Handmade tagliatelle — enough said. But the FAVA BEANS. Oh my. I’m a convert. I need to learn more about them and start looking up recipes, because they are now my new favorite bean. They were like a more buttery, meaty version of edamame. Just delicious.
I do enjoy a good braise, and this one was appropriately tender to the point of falling apart. It reminded me that I do in fact like lamb, which I somehow had managed to forget in the years between now and my childhood, when a good rosemary leg of lamb was a staple at Easter dinners. Speaking of childhood, I had to start clapping my hands with glee when the trout came out, as that’s another beloved food that brings me back to the early 80s. Summers in Newfoundland during that time involved my frequently being woken by the smell of fresh trout, dredged in flour, crackling away in a cast iron pan on the stove, the tasty outcome of that morning’s fishing expedition.
I hit the wall about the time the sea scallops came out, but pushed on through to the rib eye course, which was where I first reluctantly had to have the plate taken away without eating everything on it. The lip-puckering passion fruit gelato was the perfect end to the evening, even if it did upstage the more delicate peach gelato.
A nice side note about Zooma is that, with the exception of Chef Jeff, most of the cooks are students at Johnson & Wales, the well-respected culinary school also in Providence. Maybe it’s the old Northeastern student in me, but I definitely like the whole work/study concept, and admire Zooma for supporting the school and Chef Jeff for helping them get a hands-on education. They all did themselves proud.
Now excuse me while I go resew the button that popped off the top of my pants on the ride home.