Best Appetizer

Risotto cake at Café Modern

The appetizer is traditionally a thing you eat before the headliner. You know, salad, foie gras, fried calamari, frog legs in aloe vera. But sometimes appetizers can be meals instead of just tongue-whetters or fodder for the grazing trough. This is what Café Modern's smoked mozzarella-stuffed risotto cake is. It's a bronzed baseball--with the bronzing provided by panko bread crumbs--resting in a bath of "light tomato sauce." This alone makes it a museum piece. But when you add that it tastes good, it makes it double-plus fine. It's layered with overlapping wilted leaves of baby spinach. That bath is smooth and brisk, crackling with delicate acids. The ball crunches when pierced, exposing a steaming network of risotto grains--not creamy but breadlike in consistency. Plumb further and you unleash a core of molten smoked mozzarella that flows like slag through the risotto webbing, turning the whole thing into creamy, messy goo that steams. Now you're ready to view the art at The Modern.

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