Friday, November 27, 2009

Pasta Carla-ara (or: Midnight in the Garden of Good Eats)

For months now, my friend Carla has been talking some big talk about how she knew where to acquire the best carbonara in town. I've been known to crave this delectable dish and have even devoted a blog post to it, so of course I needed to investigate this rather audacious claim.

We waited a while till the weather grew cooler, then Carla pronounced it Carbonara Time. On the appointed day, we met at La Traviata, a sweet little restaurant on Congress Avenue that I'd been to, but it had been years. As I battled to find free parking (I have a strong aversion to paying for parking, particularly when the closest lot to the restaurant costs $10 for the privilege of occupying a space for an hour or two), I groused that THIS was why I didn't like eating dinner downtown.

But as we entered the restaurant, my irritation dissipated almost instantly. La Traviata is small and packed, but it has an elegant, cozy feel to it that is utterly charming. We snagged a small table in one of the nooks near a street window, under a sparkling chandelier.


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Almost immediately, our affable server provided us with sustenance, in the form of a basket full of bread with an olive oil accompaniment.

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We ordered, enjoyed a lovely bottle of wine, and chatted...until this came along and rendered us mute.

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Truly the most perfect carbonara I've ever had the pleasure of encountering, this specimen was composed of perfectly al dente pasta, gently piled and sprinkled with bread crumbs, then lovingly topped with a nest of slivered scallions and a farm fresh egg that was simply stunning in its simplicity. The sauce was surprisingly light - perhaps with a touch of lemon? - balancing out the rich pancetta and steering the entire dish away from the heaviness that I often encounter in a carbonara. I swooned with my first bite, and am still swooning, days later. This carbonara changed carbonara for me forever.

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Love.

How does one top that meal? One doesn't. We opted out of dessert and retired to Carla's house for more wine and an after-dark tour of Carla's amazing gardens.

Carla is the co-owner of Austin Urban Gardens, and her garden at home is a testament to her prowess in that department. Despite the fact that it was pitch black outside and windy (making focusing extremely tricky, as you'll see below), I endeavored to photograph some of the fruits of her labors.

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Some of the bounty that's already been harvested:

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Radishes

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Chocolate Cherry Tomato

I could not have imagined a more delightful evening. Memorable food, wonderful company, and a passel of inspiration for gardening (I've added an EarthBox to my Christmas wishlist). As if that weren't enough, you can bet that I'll now be the first in the car if anyone suggests driving downtown for dinner.

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