North Italia – Squid Ink Mafaldine
2957 Michelson Dr · Irvine, CA 92612
Five years ago, on a hazy, overcast autumn weekday, I found myself meandering the narrow streets and canals of Venice. A fellow colleague from the Austrian school graciously invited me on this journey to La Serenissima, acting as tour guide and providing guidance for my first ever visit. Seeing St Mark’s Square and the Basilica, and climbing up the Campanile for panoramic views of the wondrous city below, were definite highlights. Before rain eventually dampened the day, we found a Trattoria for afternoon lunch – my first ever day in Italy also was the first taste of squid ink.
North Italia’s squid ink mafaldine is a vivid reminder of that treasured experience in Venice. Swimming with a copious amount of white shrimp and calamari, tossed and topped with an acqua pazza tomato sauce, and garnished with a mint chiffonade, sprinkled with fennel pollen, and peppered with calabrian chili, the pasta is stained with the ink to a dark hue. Presentation is a simplistic beauty that pays homage to the oceanic qualities in the dish, the rippled mafaldine evoking the tense waves of the sea with tiny shrimp and calamari strips floating listlessly in the sauce.
Squid ink is a distinctive ingredient in the culinary realm, introducing an imposing hue that engulfs every inch of the pasta ribbon like black tar. The ink blankets the starch pitch black like a blank television screen, adding a glossy sheen. In terms of taste, the squid ink is not as bold and not as complex – it merely adds a coating to the starch here and a relatively neutral flavor overall.
North Italia is a chic location, where modernity meets tradition and pasta making is treated as an art. They proudly make their pasta fresh in house, something that is easily discernible by the texture and quality of the noodles. There are some outlandish varieties with labels difficult to pronounce. Mafaldine is a squiggly, thick ribbon shaped with wavy features. Crumbled indentations allow for the sauce to grip along the glistened surface. Its chewy texture complements the other elements in the bowl.
Shrimp is slightly overdone, not as juicy as when properly cooked. The result is a firmer than usual texture. Calamari is cooked better, very tender and pairing well with the pasta. The pure white calamari is the yang to the black ink pasta yin, a silky tenderness that is the ideal dance partner with the pasta.
With its delicate acidity and refined sweetness, the tomato sauce is ideal to go along with the seafood. Sauce coats each squiggly corner of the mafaldine, the thick, broad ribbons ideal. The red hues also give the dish excellent presentation, a brash juxtaposition of red atop black.
Thinly sliced fennel supplements the pollen dusted on the top, contributing textural crunch that greatly contrasts the stringy nature of the pasta and the delicate seafood. It delivers a mild flavor as well, almost anise-like. Meanwhile, the calabrian chili gives a kick of piquant that delivers a slight tinge of heat to the dish. There is also just the right portion of sauce.
At 22 dollars, the squid ink mafaldine seems exorbitant. But the exotic nature justifies the cost; the dish being in line with prices of the other entrees. With squid ink being a superior ingredient rarely found elsewhere, the dish is surely a treat. Though food came out at a snail’s pace on this Friday night visit, the wait was worth it. Overall, the squid ink mafaldine is an interesting choice utilizing a choice of uncommon ingredients. To call it an intricate seafood pasta would be an understatement – if you’ve ever been to Italy, some of these dishes will evoke those unforgettable memories all over again.