Here's something you might not know about Qui Tran (Mai Lee, Nudo): the guy is obsessed with Italian-American food. I'm a Jewish guy who finds comfort in a big bowl of bun bo hue and he's a Vietnamese guy who will talk to you about veal saltimbocca for hours if you let him. If you've followed me for awhile, you know I'm not a big Italian-American food fan. I think The Hill has far more misses than hits these days and wince every time I hear people recommending visitors go there. So, aside from Randolfi's and a few select restaurants, all my Italian picks come from Qui.
The other day he called me up and the conversation went something like:
Qui: Sugo's lasagna! That's what you gotta get next. It's freaking huge!
Me: Ok. I'll do it.
Lasagna and I have never gotten along. The only thing I liked about it as kid was when the edges would turn into crispy burnt cheese chips (one of the greatest flavors on Earth, I would argue). Besides that, I wasn't interested. Until last week, it had been probably a decade since I ordered lasagna. I had to do as Qui said. I needed to try this lasagna.
For $11, you get a brick of lasagna. It's a Rob Gronkowski sized portion, a 'slice' so large that mere mortals have no hopes of finishing. Michael Del Pietro, the chef and owner behind Sugo's, Babbo's, Tavolo V, and Via Vino, told me this is his grandmother's recipe that's been passed down for generations. I believe him.
There were two things I really enjoyed about this: it is well balanced and it's got a layer of burnt, crunchy cheese. The lasagnas of my youth were anything but balanced, tasting more like jars of marinara poured over dried out ground meat, pummeled with dried oregano. Sugo's does a nice job balancing the sweetness of fresh tomatoes and fresh tomato sauce with layers of ricotta, parmesan, Italian sausage, and ground beef. And, somehow, it doesn't seem so overwhelmingly heavy, even with those ingredients. Magic.
Sitting in the restaurant, eating this on a rainy spring day, I got the appeal. It's a comfort food. It tastes like something your mom or grandma might have made you, all the while pushing you to keep eating because you're a growing boy.
The best part of this lasagna came the day after. I took my leftovers and broiled them until they became a bubbly, burnt, crispy messy. It's like a bonus round of lasagna.
West County folks—if you haven't made your way over to Sugo's for a meal fit for The Mountain, you should remedy that.