About one year ago I was eating at Eataly and discovered cacio e pepe. The name of the dish translates to “cheese and pepper”, and it’s made of literally three ingredients: pasta, cheese, and peppercorns. But when those ingredients are combined the right way, with the proper amount of heat and pasta water, it creates a thick, creamy, cheesy sauce. Once I realized I loved this simple but indulgent pasta, that old school East Village Italian spot I’d passed a million times looked far more appealing. When the name of the restaurant is Cacio e Pepe, they are bound to make the namesake dish well.
I kind of forgot that Cacio e Pepe was on my restaurant list until I saw via Instagram that husband-of-the-century John Legend gave his cool-as-shiz wife Chrissy Teigen a giant wheel of cheese for Xmas. When Teigen later posted how to use this amazing gift as a way to prep and serve pasta, I was giddy. I needed to see this trick in action. I mentioned it to a friend who told me that Cacio e Pepe, just 25 blocks below my apartment, did just this. Suddenly the restaurant shot to the top of my list.
We finally made it there on Friday and I didn’t need to look at the menu. We all knew I was getting the cacio e pepe. Why would I get anything else? Sure enough, my pasta arrived inside an enormous wheel of pecorino. The waiter stirred it around the hollow of the cheese where the heat of the pasta and the bit of starchy water created a sauce as it rushed against the cheese walls. As he was stirring, the waiter also scraped off bits of cheese, just for good measure. It was perfect. The pasta was nice and al dente; the sauce was ridiculous. This is the way it’s done. This pasta dish is a must if you want to pay homage to the cheese gods.
I learned that each wheel makes 60 cacio e pepe orders…and they go through a lot of wheels. It’s a cool thing to see and it tastes good to boot. Getting pasta served to you in a giant wheel of pecorino should be a bucket list food dish for you.
But of course we tried other menu items and were happy all around. The bread was served with a tomato jam thing that was wonderful. Knowing I had a heavy pasta meal on the way, I wanted to reserve myself when it came to complementary bread, but once I tried the tomato stuff it was hard not to eat with abandon. The other dishes we ordered (mussels to share and salmon with potatoes and escarole for Albert’s main) were both done well. This is your neighborhood Italian spot that is just better than normal, thanks to the namesake dish.