Back when I worked as the New York Times's bureau chief in Rome, I had a ritual. I would have Sunday dinner out, always confining my order to pasta and wine. It represented a calm, focused moment before the start of a hectic week. More than that, the meal was an opportunity to distill dining to its essence: something to stick to my ribs, and something to go to my head.
Fast-forward a dozen years. I now live in New York City but could follow my Roman regimen seven nights a week, thanks to an abundance of new places where celebrated chefs and restaurateurs focus on pasta and wine. I think of Lilia in Brooklyn and the chef Missy Robbins's riff on cacio e pepe using pink peppercorns in lieu of black. The subtly fizzy Lambrusco accompanying the dish had a mischievous effervescence that matched the pasta's mood. They were partners in irreverence.
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Lilia opened amid a cluster of like-minded ventures including Pasquale Jones, Café Altro Paradiso and La Sirena, a large and buzzing addition to Mario Batali's empire. Despite the current mania for all things gluten-free, these places are signs of the times. Exorbitant New York rents and other factors are raising the cost of doing business; pastas, fairly cheap to make yet easy to sell for $20 or more, are an enticing way to respond.