It was meant to be a quick catch-up lunch, with a bit of quirkiness in the small-talk department, but this turned into a memorable occasion involving flavour, camaraderie and taste. These things happen at good local restaurants, such as the legendary Magica Roma in Pinelands. And we ate gonads, but more of that later.
I was lunching with the authoritative Dr Bowman, Winifred Bowman, so front-of-house guided us to one of the better tables. These are the ones at the back-end of the restaurant with the engaging view of Pinelands’ tar-roads, a sliver of grassy green lung and a few local geriatrics trying, valiantly, to make it to the pharmacy three doors away without keeling over in lifeless heaps. I am sure many of these folk are still alive due to their daily breathing- in of the fine, life-affirming aromas of Italian cuisine emanating from Magica Roma.
While discussing the modernisation of Prosecco styles as a result of a change in the phosphate content of the soils of north-eastern Italy, Dr Bowman and I sipped on glasses of cool Frascati wine. This was light enough to be lapped-up with vigour, yet with the discernible presence of fruit, wet Dolomite granite and fresh water gushing in a mountain stream.
To start-off, I commandeered six wild oysters that had just recently been plucked from the beds of Cape Infanta. Dr Bowman settled for some fried squid-heads due to her having some oyster issues, which – I am sure – have been diagnosed and are currently subjected to thorough treatment.
My oysters arrived on a platter, and they looked heavy and stern in those gnarled, thick shells that wild oysters live in until being lovingly torn from the rocks by marine foragers. The creatures’ flesh glistened in the Pinelands natural light drifting in from outside as another old-timer prodded a Zimmer-frame towards the pharmacy. When squirted with lemon juice, the animals’ muscles jerked in irritation and pain, leading me to put the molluscs out of their mercy by placing them in a warm wine-scented mouth and swallowing. What a way to go….the Oyster Gods can thank me later.
Dr Bowman was having equal pleasure with her golden-fried squid heads, the tentacles dusted with a hit of chilli, I was told. Apparently, they were sweet, tender and just perfect. Although not even the most self-pitying hang-dog look from my side could generate enough sympathy to permit me to share one of those crisply fleshed little critters.
Before ordering main-course, we were offered a little surprise in-betweener. And who was going to say no to that? The surprise turned out to be a risotto flavoured with the reproductive organs of sea-urchins. When the unexpected is good, it is far better than the expected good-stuff. And this dish was incredibly beautiful in its simplicity and plain presentation, and other-worldly in taste and texture.
Short grains of arborio rice, cooked perfectly al dente as only someone with Italian DNA can do. The rice held together with a murky broth, slightly hued the colour of deep ocean coral. Rice and broth combined to create an explosion of maritime flavours, the experiencing of which led to one hearing the sounds of foghorns, screeching deep-sea fishing reels and the colourful, expletive-laden voices of Cape fishermen. How to explain the flavours of sea-urchin sex-organ, this is one of food-writing’s greatest challenges. Suffice to say, it makes you feel one with the ocean, and if the God Neptune is serving this stuff at his next shin-dig, I’m growing gills.
Dr Bowman was, like me, overwhelmed by this dish and felt no need for a main course. But we soldiered on, fortified by sea-urchin private-parts and the good Chianti wine that I had ordered. A slab of young beef was shared, grilled medium-rare with a hint of balsamic in the baste. Underneath, a bed of wilted spinach with a couple of golden chips on the side.
Eating all those marine morsels had given me a carnivorous blood-lust that would make Hannibal Lecter appear a vegan on the keto diet. So I dug in, the beef tender as an executioner’s apology, with the blood being sucked out of each morsel which created in me a sense of being fortified, ready to grab a club with which to head into the woods and create havoc in my satisfied and animalistic state.
Instead, I just had an espresso and headed for home, but not before downing a fine Pinot Noir grappa to light some more flames.
- Emile Joubert
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