The description was simple: “linguine & clams, uni aglio-olio, chili, breadcrumbs.” What it should have said was: “heaven.”
I went to a wine dinner last night at Son of a Gun here in LA where Galician winemaker Martin Codax was celebrating the start of National Seafood Month with massive amounts of Albariño paired with a six course meal of seafood, seafood, and more seafood (also some country ham from Benton’s). The whole meal was fantastic from the greatest-hits canapes of lobster rolls, shrimp toast, and daikon-wrapped dungeness crab to the amberjack sashimi funkified with a fish sauce vinaigrette. The highlight of the meal, though, was the linguine & clams. Right now, a full twelve hours after I ate it, I’m still thinking about it.
It’s hard to stand out with a dish as simple as linguine with clams. Most Italian restaurants keep it on the menu and it’s usually a briny, garlicky, clam sauce-laden plate of meh. Well-cooked linguine, a few clams, a shake of the crushed red pepper and that’s it. At Son of a Gun, though, it transcends. First of all, the clams come de-shelled and that’s a major boon. I hate spending time doing the dirty work with shellfish before I get a chance to eat. Last night, all of the beautiful clam bellies were laid out for me and that made me a happy dude.
The next feather in this seafood cap was the pasta itself. Supple, toothsome, perfectly al dente without being undercooked. This was linguine that other linguine should aspire to. And yet, the pasta wasn’t the best part of the dish. That honor was reserved for the uni aglio-olio. Traditionally, linguine and clams comes in a plain aglio-olio (garlic oil) but at Son of a Gun, that basic combination is transformed with the addition of uni, aka sea urchin gonads aka perhaps the most delicate expression of the sea available. The uni thickened the sauce into an emulsified bliss, clinging to the pasta like a college kid’s windbreaker on a muggy Spring day. It hit every single taste bud: salty, sour, sweet, bitter, umami. Everything was represented in a single bite, along with some spice from the chilies, and crunch from breadcrumbs.
That dish made me stop and put my fork down. That’s how good it was. I had to savor every bite. By the time it was gone, I was already wistful. Farewell, perfect uni-rich linguine & clams. Until we meet again.