At the top of my wife’s list of places to go in Rome for our most recent trip was Glass Hostaria, a Michelin-starred restaurant located in Trastevere, not far from the always-hip Piazza Trilussa. We had long heard good things about the innovative chef, Cristina Bowerman, the only woman among the Michelin star chefs in the Eternal City. I expect a Michelin-star kitchen to blow my doors off. Chef Bowerman, however, didn’t just do that: she rocked my (food) world.
The restaurant’s attractive interior gives a hint about the food: the old (exposed beams) are complemented by the new (glass floors, a modern metal staircase). These days I tend to shy away from tasting menus due to the high amount of food they normally contain. But too many things on Glass’ menu tempted us, and their “Traditional” tasting menu is on the short side of today’s tasting menus. It turned about to be the right amount of food. But it’s not about the quantity, it’s all about the quality… and Glass delivered this night.
Our first amuse bouche set the bar high: A cool campari sphere shooter sitting in a bed of sugar bursts in your mouth. The server gave us the helpful tip to just take the whole sphere in your mouth–don’t bite into it. The little amount of sugar that sticks to the sphere is enough counterpoint that even those who don’t like Campari’s characteristic bitterness will appreciate this novel bite.
Unexpected, fun, and refreshing. And, as we were to see throughout the meal, taking a traditional thing and interpreting it in a new and different way, particularly with interesting textures, is one of the chef’s gifts. Next up, a board filled with amazing little bites:
Strawberry juice in a sphere that explodes in your mouth, a delightfully light curry on a crisp, tiny bits of salmon with a pea-sized dollop of sour cream on brown bread, pistachio-crusted sweet and rich-but-light cheese balls, tuna tartare in a crispy roll (the first suggestion of Ms. Bowerman’s appreciation of Japanese cuisine), a delightful butter with black salt with the first of many wonderful breads that were served… tangy, crunchy, rich, salty.
Next came beef tartare. Normally this is a rather traditional dish in Rome. Not so, here. Chef Bowerman keeps the traditional capers but turns it into a sushi, with wasabi and fish roe (tobiko), and a hint of orange. The dish is colorful, full of the different textures of the soft meat versus the slight resistance of the roe, a crunch of greens, the slight tang of the wasabi.
This dish was enjoyed with the marvelous breads…
Next up was a departure from the printed menu, which said to expect sweetbreads with truffle and cauliflower. The unexpected pleasure was veal marinated in sangria, with pickled beets and grapes, with a sprinkle of parmesan for both its richness and added texture. So refreshing on a hot evening, the sangria added a surprising depth to the flavor, again due to Bowerman’s masterful control of contrasting flavors.
After all this, I was not expecting the next dish, “Amatriciana sauce stuffed pasta, crispy guanciale,” to be mind blowing. But it was.
Five ravioli. Five of the best ravioli I have ever had.
Chef Bowerman’s idea and delivery are inspired. Stuffed inside the ravioli is a tangy Amatriciana sauce — the purest, most divine flavor of the multitude Amatriciana sauces I’ve ever put in my mouth. Adding both texture and flavor, were small bits of guanciale, some cooked to a crisp for a crunch, others left soft for a second texture. The pasta shells were thin and perfect. I could go on and on, but suffice to say that this dish was so good, I had an emotional response to it. Completely divine.
The “traditional meat course” was lamb. This lamb, however, wanted to be pork belly, both in appearance and, moreover, the interesting texture.
The lamb short ribs had a slight orange glaze, and the top and bottom of the several layers resembled the chewiness of pork skin. The dish was served with “coffee scented” baby carrots and a potato puree. Quite gamey and very satisfying.
Dessert was another concoction of flavor and texture: coffee, condensed milk, crunchy almonds, and Baileys ice cream, with a spun sugar shell. Delicious.
Really a stunning, playful, imaginative meal. Elements of the traditional Italian food experience, but mixed up in ways that sometimes make the dish more pure, or change it into something new all together. This meal was a game changer in my foodie experience. Bravo, Chef Bowerman!