I’ve done the special occasion night out Le Farfalle experience before. We sat at a marble-topped table in the bar area and ordered cocktails and wine; we dipped the focaccia in the creamy ricotta, went to heaven, then went to heaven squared with the duck agnolotti. I can’t recall the dessert but I think that’s because it was only at the table for 30 seconds. Needless to say, regardless of your culinary leanings or cravings, Le Farfalle satisfies. And when Michael Toscano teamed up with Brooklyn pal and celeb chef Dale Talde, the satisfaction was almost inexplicable. Almost.
Le Farfalle’s signature Charleston Wine + Food dinner lasted several hours, later into the evening than I pretty much ever stay up. Even for a Friday. Seated at a table with Dale Talde’s wife, Agnes Chung Talde, Grassroots Wine's Harry Root, and New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov, I was happy to just be there. And then the food started arriving.
A diner next to me queried aloud what I had been thinking, “wait, they’re bringing all of these?” The answer? Um, yeah. Six antipasti dishes, two primi pasta dishes, and five secondi plates to round it out, all served family style. With a wine pairing or two for every course. I guess they don’t call it Wine + Food for nothin’.
Toscano and Talde explained the dishes in between courses, their inspiration, and why it worked. We all nodded enthusiastically. They were beaming, old friends reunited for a sold-out event. Their easy rapport extended to the “how the hell did you nail this” dishes.
Highlights from antipasti: a savory cannoli. With cocoa nibs. Aside from the fact that I would like my tombstone crafted out of cannoli shells, these were damn tasty. Stuffed with caponata, mozzarella, and then dipped in cocoa nibs, I was pretty ready to just commit to this and eat as many as my fellow tablemates would allow. And a surprise stunner (at least for me, sister to a pescetarian meat-hater) was the crispy pig’s ear salad. Fried piggie ears over an arugula salad with pickled mustard seeds. Incredible. Plus, I was ready even then to grab any greens I saw after the Sicilian style pizza, Biryani arancini, and several rounds of the cannoli. We sipped a sparkling wine and rose for the first course, and Asimov, who also explained his picks between courses, said, so you know it must be true,“no meal is complete without sparkling wine” (especially when the NYT wine critic chooses it for you!).
Both primi pastas were a delight: airy, flavorful, and entirely unexpected. But the pasta e fagioli was a testament to Toscano’s ingenuity, and dedication to preserving and highlighting Lowcountry fare. The delicate ditalini was made from Charleston gold rice and was tossed with Sea Island red peas, then topped with parmigiano. Simple, comforting, maybe something your dad would make you at home when you were having a bad day (if your dad was Michael Toscano).
Secondi highlights: everyone was still awake! And there was still a lot of food to eat and a lot of wine to drink. It’s not hedonism if you’re taking notes, right? The five dishes, which came out staggered like all the previous plates, were pretty much licked clean; diners, myself very much included, became emboldened once we realized we were in this thing, might as well skip the dainty politeness. There was a local white shrimp piccata, charcoal grilled squid (with soy molasses!), jerk duck over steamed rice with plum sauce, smoked beef leg with Jimmy red corn polenta, and braised greens and gigante beans with hot pepper vinegar.
It's been almost 48 hours since I sat down to this marathon meal, and yes, I've already made a date to return to Le Farfalle in the coming month for a first day of spring celebration. Even though Wine + Food is but a few days a year, we can always visit our local superstars. So, don't cry because it's over, but smile, because there are so many damn good restaurants in this town you should be busy for at least another 364 days.