I was plenty excited about the opening of Mothers & Sons Trattoria, Durham's newest Italian eatery helmed by Josh DeCarolis and Matt Kelly. Still, I had to resist the urge to roll my eyes every time I heard anyone (and nearly everyone) rhapsodize over the squid ink tonnarelli.
The grouchy hipster within me was bred with a Pavlovian need to throw shade any time I hear a popular ingredient buzzword like "squid ink." But even my too-cool-for-school barber mumbled something about wanting to try it. This plate of noodles is becoming the stuff of Durham legend, so I made it my mission to understand the origin of all the fuss.
Each trip to Mothers & Sons felt like an outtake from Big Night, with my dates and I taking the liberty of ordering almost everything on the menu, sipping wine all night, and basically sleepwalking our way to the parking lot. By the time the pasta course came around on the first visit, I could barely lift my eyelids, let alone my fork, to truly appreciate the renowned dish in question.
On the second trip, I'd nearly stuffed myself to Violet Beauregarde status with the fried mozzarella-fava-prosciutto arancini and the roasted beets dolloped with pesto and stracchino cheese. But when the squid ink pasta hit the table, I was primed and ready to stuff my gullet.
Two-thirds of the way through my plate, I figured out why no one can seem to shut up about this dish. It's not necessarily about the hand-rolled pasta tinted with squid ink, or the perfect, surprising morsels of uni and shrimp, or the fact that the plating design calls to mind savory ropes of black licorice. All of those things were great, but the dish stands out for another reason.
For me, each mouthful of squid ink and seafood brought back childhood summers at the Carolina coast. Poking through the ingredients with my fork churned up long-forgotten memories of catching low-country sea critters with my uncles, and how the combination of seaweed and salt creeps inside your nose and burrows into your soul. The dish brought back memories I haven't lingered over for years. As a result, it did much more than just fill my stomach. It filled my heart, too.
This dish isn't about buzzwords, and Mothers & Sons isn't solely about the hype. Each bite clearly conveys the love and happy memories of those who conceived the recipe. The unforgettable flavors don't just showcase the line cooks' precision or the subtle genius of the executive chef. The flavors carry the obvious thumbprint of a generations-old reverence for the art of eating, and the weight of that thumbprint lasts long after the check has been paid.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Squid Goals"