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One Dish Wonders: Spaghetti Bolognese at La Traviata

Mike Sutter

In the 15 years Dale Rice was the Statesman's restaurant critic, our one lunch together was spaghetti Bolognese at La Traviata. It stayed with me. Since then, I've steered business meetings to La Traviata (314 Congress Ave. 479-8131, just to have that dish again and to sit close to the big cafe windows. At lunch it's $9.50, and for dinner the size and price go up to $15. A little bread and olive oil but no sides, because there's no need. But if the need arises, I'd go with crispy polenta at lunch and a Caesar salad at dinner. I could describe how the curls of pasta fold into the tomato sauce with a touch of cream, or how the meat and herbs fill your senses and belly with equal purpose. But I'd rather hear La Traviata chef-owner Marion Gilchrist talk about the restaurant and her spaghetti Bolognese.

"I worked for an Italian chef in Santa Fe. And one of the reasons I chose to do Italian here is because when I found the space — I had different concepts in mind — but when I found the space, it had more of an Italian feel, like a New York or San Francisco kind of restaurant.

"I had to design the menu around the kitchen. We only have 12 burners back there and two ovens and that's it. It's all women on the line. All of the pastas are done to order. We all kind of dance around one another.

"There are so many different versions of (Bolognese). Whether they use veal or just beef or if they use beef and pork. I just did research and practiced and decided this is the one that works for me. I chose veal, pork and beef.

"Some people use milk in theirs, some people use more tomato. We brown the meats and then we do celery, onions and carrots, some dried mushrooms. Then we add some chicken stock, some chopped tomatoes. And then some smoked bacon and different spices. The whole process is probably eight hours of cooking.

"The sauce is basically done, and then to order we cook it with the pasta and add a touch of cream to finish it off."