From pork chops and gnocchi to halibut and octopus, there’s plenty to ply the palate.
id he say he used a cork? The question came like one of those double-take glances—when you catch a glimpse of something, but your brain needs a second look to register the image. In this case, it was my cerebral double take upon hearing Executive Chef Jonah Amodt explain that he uses a wine cork to help achieve the tender quality of his octopus—or polipo e ceci, as it appears on the menu at Angelina’s Pizzeria Napoletana.
Now, I’ve never been a fan of octopus or squid—the rubbery texture has always bothered me. Had I been more familiar with this delicacy, I might have known that integrating a wine cork into the cooking is a well-accepted method of tenderizing these cephalopods. And it certainly works for Amodt, who recently joined the Angelina’s team after serving as head chef at the esteemed Andrea at The Resort at Pelican Hill. It’s one of several new dishes he’s added to the restaurant’s seasonal menu, and it’s sublime.
Its presentation is artful in the apparent simplicity—sinuous pink-hued arms rest atop a bed of whole chickpeas (thus, the ceci in the dish’s name) and tomatoes seasoned with freshly chopped marjoram. What you see is exactly what you get. But getting there is a multi-task endeavor. For starters, Amodt quick-dips the octopus several times in a mixture of boiling water, white wine and aromatics—and the cork from the wine bottle—then finishes it in Angelina’s wood-burning oven. That last step gives the tentacles just the right amount of crispy char. The chickpeas and tomatoes? Those are sous vide—a method of braising over a longer-than-usual period of time—and finished with marjoram. The ingredients combine to create a dish that’s layered with flavors of the sea and of the earth. I have to say—this ranks among my favorite tastes of the night. (And, remember, I’m not a fan of octopus. So that ought to tell you something about just how good this dish is.)
Competing among Angelina’s new antipasti selections is the bresaola—salted air-dried beef, sliced as thin as onion skin (it all but melts in your mouth), teamed with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and crostini, then drizzled with a vinaigrette carrying bits of sun-dried tomatoes. The meat imparts only a mild salinity, and the sweet-but-tangy sun-dried tomatoes cut through the richness of the meat beautifully.
A winning choice among the pasta selections this season is the gnocchi. Amodt’s iteration is probably the lightest and fluffiest I’ve ever had—and that’s coming from an Italian who’s had my share of homemade gnocchi. The potatoes are roasted in-house and blended with flour and eggs. That’s it—just three ingredients. The bite-size morsels are then drenched in a beef-and-pork Bolognese sauce. “We add a little milk to break down the meat a bit and then toss in a bit of rosemary at the end,” notes Chef. The latter delivers a wonderful herbaceous quality to the dish. The final touch: a heavenly dollop of fresh, creamy buratta.
But it was the meatballs that my husband and I found ourselves fencing over with our forks. They’re a little spicy, a little smoky (thank you, oh wonderful wood-fire oven), and they arrive at your table in a skillet, still steaming hot. A tip: Save a few pieces of the flatbread you’ll be served at the start of your visit and use them to scoop up any remaining bits of meatball and drops of marinara—otherwise you’ll be tempted to pick up the pan and lick it.
You’ll spot two new entrees on the menu this season as well—and both are perfectly suited for warm-weather appetites. The costata de vitello—or veal chop—is plated on a swirl of charred rapini (also known as broccoli rabe) puree, topped with a chunky apricot mostarda and paired with roasted potatoes. It’s savory and sweet and wholly delectable. So is the halibut, which is seared to a golden brown and teamed with sautéed oyster mushrooms and leeks. It’s a pure and simple dish that will leave you feeling satisfied but not stuffed.
There are, of course, numerous other menu options—mainstays like Angelina’s pizza, which now can be ordered in a smaller size, so now you can gobble up one all by yourself. And you’ll find a wonderful selection of Italian wines to pair with every course. Consider saving the corks, though—you might want to use them if you ever try cooking octopus at home.