IF ANYONE SAW the way you ate that lasagna—sitting there hunched over the aluminum tray, one arm shielding the saucy goodness, shoveling forkful after forkful into your face between plaintive moans of pleasure—it would've been necessary to kill them out of shame.
You should've just been reasonable and eaten a serving or two, but this was not reasonable lasagna. It was light and yet rich and creamy, with paper-thin noodles acting as a balanced component of the dish rather than tasteless barricades between layers of sauce and protein. There was a meaty depth to each bite, something so familiar, but something you'd not tasted before; something that remained elusive even after you finished the entire tray. Luckily, there were no witnesses.
Consider Taste Unique's take-home Italian a blessing. If dishes like the spinach cannelloni, potato pie (sformato di patate), or pizza margherita were served in a restaurant, the restraint required not to lick the plate or make loud, delighted noises would be exhausting. At home, how you consume offerings like the superbly cheesy, creamy, and slightly smoky mushroom risotto pie is your own business.
As it stands, lunch service in the tiny 10-seat kitchen is eaten to a soundtrack of sighs, exclamations, and sudden bursts of Italian (along with the intermittent, loud, and grating hum of a large freezer). To discourage any plate licking, dishes come with a generous serving of Roman focaccia—salty, slightly crisped, and soft and warm in the center—which is pulled from the oven at regular intervals, filling the air with a deep, buttery scent. Currently, Taste Unique is an un-crowded refuge, but I suspect that will soon change.
The dishes prepared by chef Stefania Toscano are sweet simplicity. Save for semolina, the ingredient list for her lasagnas read like the contents of most anyone's larder: eggs, flour, cream, crushed tomatoes, milk, parmesan, and meat or veggies, depending on which you order. What's exciting is how that list is transformed into something so delicious. The vegetarian lasagna is one of the best dishes I've had all year—while each bite has a creamy fullness, the flavors of zucchini and mushroom come through readily just below an ethereal smoke from a fine provolone.
I'm tempted to say the food at Taste Unique is understated, but I'm more inclined to believe that most Italian cuisine I've had is overstated. The idea here is to let the ingredients be, and to use the salt sparingly. A spinach ravioli offers pockets of fresh spinach with delicate flavor best paired with butter and sage. A lunch special of orecchiette (little shell pasta) draws saltiness from bits of pancetta using a rich ricotta to tie the dish together.
Perhaps the most amazing item at this humble shop is a dessert. The tiramisu has the quality of being both cloud-like and filling, satisfyingly sweet but with a touch of savory, and positively stunning with a thick dusting of cocoa. It's unlikely you'll leave the shop without Toscano handing you a spoonful. Be warned, once you've had that first bite, you'll crave the dessert for days, or until you've bought a tray of the stuff to take home, where you'll eat it in the dark as you quietly weep for joy.
Though you should experience lunch at Taste Unique (if not for the food then for the chance to speak with the charming Chef Toscano), the bulk of their offerings are prepared for takeout and can be purchased refrigerated or frozen. Items change regularly based on what Toscano finds at the farmers market. One afternoon I sampled a zucchini and thyme cream sauce that had me shaking my head in disbelief.
Once you've brought your entrées home, the rest, of course, is up to you. Which is where most of my criticism comes in. The service there was lacking and the atmosphere was too casual. (Really, cats on the dining room table?) On another occasion, the first attempt at a butter and sage sauce that came out of my kitchen (to go with the excellent spinach ravioli) was burnt and inedible. Also, I didn't appreciate that I had to clear my own table and wash the dishes.
But for all the faults of my own dining room and kitchen, the food served from trays with the Taste Unique logo brings a touch of Italy into my home. And once pulled from the oven, it's time to close the blinds, put on a Pavarotti record, and hope no one's watching.