Tag Archives: italian

Giulia, Harvard / Porter Sq

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Where: Giulia- 1682 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138

After reading about Giulia on one of those “hot new restaurant” lists, I quickly made a reservation to go with OZT. Excellent. I had a week to pine over the menu and figure out a tactic to convince her to share a few different items with me, which it turned out was just waiting for her to make the suggestion. Great minds think alike.

Giulia is conveniently (for me) located between Porter and Harvard Squares in the old space where Rafiki briefly lived. The layout is similar but with an additional built up seating area (watch your step), open kitchen, large pasta / dining table at the back and more rustic charm. Our server told us that if you walk by Giulia during the day around 3:30 you can peek in and see the chef making all the pasta from scratch on this big table. Not sure I could resist joining if I ever caught that.

We were quickly seated and greeted by our server. He poured over the menu describing half of the menu items in great detail while we stifled our giggles at explanations of fairly well known items like “lardo”.

I still don’t understand this trend in restaurants to have the server describe each item on the menu in flowery detail. One or two items to point out fine, but if you don’t want me to read the menu for myself don’t give me one! I could have taken a nap in the time he took to finish!” – OZT.

After we were left to look over the menu, he came back and told us that he “didn’t want to previously tell us about this other item but is now ready to…”. Um, why didn’t he want to tell us before?! Did he think we weren’t worthy of knowing? Was he watching us to make sure we were sophisticated enough? Why was it some big secret?

We started with the Bruschetta with tuscan kale with house made ricotta and chilies. The bruschetta looked gorgeous with the deep green kale and bright white ricotta with little specks of chili oil. Sadly, the Bruschetta didn’t taste as vibrant as it looked – it was pretty bland. We couldn’t taste any heat, zing, or seasoning from the chilies. Nada. Salt helped a little but the Bruschetta were definitely missing something.

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We then shared two pasta plates – the lobster agnolotti (umbrian truffles, chives and lobster brodetto) and pappardelle with wild boar (black trumpet, juniper and aged parmigiano), the latter being highly recommended by our server.

The lobster agnolotti, which were like little tortellinis, came out in a delicate broth and looked divine. I couldn’t wait to get in there so I started with this one before we did the midway swap. I was pretty disappointed to find that the lobster flavor was very, very mild. I likely wouldn’t have been able to distinguish the lobster in the pasta at all had it not been for the small pieces (2) of shell I came across.

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We did the midway swap, and as soon my OZT took a bite of the lobster agnolotti she said that what she had started with, the pappardelle with wild boar, was definitely better. I couldn’t agree more. The pappardelle with wild boar was phenomenal. The pasta was perfect, the sauce rich but not heavy and boar salty and a touch gamey. Delicious. I would like another whole plate of that, please. I polished that off and then dug into the bread to get the rest of the sauce off the plate. This dish made up for the first two.

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I wasn’t too bothered with getting dessert but why not? Boy am I glad we did. We split the Panna Cotta with madagascar vanilla bean, and poached quince and it was well worth the calories. The panna cotta was nice and firm and the vanilla tickled my senses before I could even take a bite. The quince, which I realize I know far too little about, was light and a perfect contrast to the dessert.

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Overall, I’d go back to Giulia for a drink at the bar but I don’t think I would go back for dinner, at least not until they settle in and for a few months and work out a few of their kinks. Half of our meal was fantastic but the other half was lacking in flavor. The wait staff were a little too attentive which may just be growing pains, but you really don’t have to reach in front of us mid conversation to fill up our water glasses after each sip. I really wanted to love you, Giulia, but you didn’t give me much of a chance.

How did Giulia measure up? 2.5 Spoons

Amelias Trattoria, Kendall Sq

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Amelia’s Trattoria – 111 Harvard Street ,  Cambridge, MA

Girls night!! I had really been looking forward to this particular girls night out with some of my favorite women in development and was excited to try Amelia’s Trattoria, which happened to be just a couple blocks from my new office. Perfect.

Amelia’s is tucked away on Harvard Street near Kendall Sq just behind Tech Sq. Its unlikely that you would find it just wandering around which is what contributes to the fact that you can actually get a table easily. We made a reservation and trickled in slowly just after. We were promptly seated and had had a very patient waiter as we mulled over the menu while waiting for our party to arrive. The chef even agreed to make us bruschetta even though it wasn’t on the dinner menu.

So we started with the Bruschetta -Grilled foccacia bread, marinated tomatoes, fresh basil & red onion. Personally, I didn’t love this dish. I thought the bread was a little hard and a little too big (hence making it messy). The marinated tomatoes were delicious though, I could eat that right off the plate – who needs bread anyways?

We then split two dishes to get more variety for our buck. We started with the Baby Spinach Salad – Baby spinach, caramelized balsamic shallots, crispy pancetta & Vermont goat cheese. Re-read that. I mean, can it get any better than that combination? This salad was delicious – salty, crispy, tart, and creamy.

We then shared a Lobster Ravioli dish which was one of Amelia’s daily specials that night. If I can give Amelia’s one piece of unsolicited advice it would be to get this item on the menu permanently. It was delicious. The raviolis were tender and meaty and the sauce creamy and bursting with flavor. I loved how saucy it was as there was just enough leftover for me to mop up with some bread. Its a keeper.

Overall, I was impressed with the ravioli and salad dishes but a little let down by our starter. Service was great and I would recommend Amelia’s for lunch, dinner, groups, or a date. The restaurant is small, giving it a cozy feel, and I can imagine sitting by the window watching snow fall with a big hot plate of pasta. I’ll be back.

How did Amelia’s Trattoria measure up? 3.25 Spoons!

 

Amelia's Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Fettuccine with Prosciutto and Orange, Recipe

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Back in December I posted about this Linguine with Prosciutto and Orange recipe I made. It was before I had my fancy new iPhone with flash so my photos were extra terrible but as the dish is extra delicious I had to remake it so here’s an updated photo (and recipe is re-posted below for you)! I love this recipe, its so easy, quick, and requires so few ingredients and tools. Its a great weeknight meal  as well as special enough to share.

Obviously, you can make it with whatever pasta you would like but I prefer a fettuccine or linguine myself. Buon appetito!

Linguine with Prosciutto and Orange

12 oz linguine (or tagliatelle or fettuccine)
1.5 tbsp unsalted butter
2 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, torn into small pieces
zest and juice of one orange
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Cook pasta according to directions, drain about 1 minute before al dente. Reserve 1/4cup of the cooking water.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add prosciutto, saute until browned, about 3 minutes. Add reserved pasta water, orange juice, half of zest, and cream. Bring to a boil. Add pasta, cook stirring until sauce coats pasta and pasta is al dente, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper (taste first, the cheese and prosciutto already make it very salty – I didn’t need to add any). Stir in cheese, serve and garnish with remaining zest.

Toscano, Beacon Hill

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Where: Toscano - 47 Charles Street, Boston, MA 02114
When: February, 2012

There are two languages spoken within my office at work – “donor speak”, which is how we convey our mission and messaging to our donors and supporters, and “food speak” which is what Alicia, my office mate of almost 5 years, and I speak the rest of the time. We start the day asking about each others’ nights or weekends which revolves around what we ate or cooked and then we end the day by asking each others’ evening plans which involves what we are planning to eat or cook. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It had been way too long since we had been out to dinner so we got a date on the calendar and decided on Toscano’s in Beacon Hill. I had walked by Toscano’s dozens of times before but never really noticed it or heard too much about it which, after having been there, I find surprising. The restaurant is a lot bigger than one would expect having been to a handful of the intimate (read: small) restaurants on Charles Street. It was modern but classic. The service was phenomenal with servers working together to make sure your glass never went empty and you had everything you needed. Looking around there was an elegant mother of three dining with her very well behaved kids, an older nicely dressed couple who looked as though they had been coming there for years, and a table of what appeared to be business men in suits. I could also see Toscano’s being a nice date place.Very versatile.

After debating between a bottle of wine and going by the glass, and choosing the glass, we were pleasantly surprised that their glasses of wine are actually Quartinos- a fourth of a liter. The perfect amount for a Tuesday night. I got the Sangiovese, Umani Ronchi which was just right with everything we ordered. Can’t go wrong with an Italian red when you are at an Italian restaurant really…

We started the meal sharing the Salumi Misti – Sliced Cured / Roasted Meats, Pecorino Toscano, Mixed Olives – and the Polpettini Fiorentina – Veal, Beef, Pork Meatballs, Florentine Style. The Salumi Misti plate was wonderful. I know there was prosciutto and salami on the plate but I am not exactly sure what the last item, at the bottom of the photo, was. We guessed that it was (obviously really) the roasted meat but what meat I can’t really tell you. This starter came with arugula and cheese which was a nice compliment to the olives and meats. I could have eaten an entire plate of the prosciutto alone, delicious. I had heard diners rave about the meatballs via Yelp before coming so I knew we had to order them. The meatballs, although impossible for a non-Italian like myself to pronounce without feeling silly (thank goodness for my Italian dinner date!), were delicious and huge. They were juicy and flavorful and the sauce was dynamite, a wonderful dipping sauce for the two kinds of bread that came out before our starters. Definitely a good choice.

For our entree we ordered the Gnocchi Quarttro Formaggi – Handmade Potato Gnocchi with Four Cheeses. The chef split the order for us which is always so nice instead of making a mess doing so at the table. The portions, again, were very generous. I noticed with the entree how simple the food is here. You won’t get some fancy inedible decorative piece on your plate. You won’t get some mile high presentation or anything that doesn’t need to be there. The food is honest, clean, well prepared, and delicious. The gnocchi, even in its cream sauce, were light, delicate, and well seasoned. It took everything in me to eat them one by one and not stab at my plate until I had a line of 4 on my fork to pop in my mouth.

Would you like to look at a dessert menu?” Bahahah. Of course.

As tempted as I was to get the Tiramisu the reviews were so mixed that I didn’t want to take the chance. Instead we ordered the Ricotta Cheesecake which was delicious. I know its not easy to have so many courses with cheese but we managed to power through it. The cake, like the gnocchi, gave the impression of being light and fluffy. It was just the right amount of sweet with the slight lingering tartness of the ricotta.

With dessert we ordered coffees and I have to say this is one of the best coffees I have had in a while. I’m not a coffee connoisseur or snob but this was truly delicious. I was raving about the coffee for days after wards, I need to find out the brand although I’m not sure I need a reason to be drinking more coffee than I already do.

Overall, the food was no frills, simple, delicious Italian fare (and large portions), the service was phenomenal, and the coffee alone would keep me coming back.

How did Toscano measure up? 4.5 Spoons!

Ristorante Toscano on Urbanspoon

Cuchi Cuchi, Central Sq

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Where: Cuchi Cuchi – 795 Main Street Cambridge, MA 02139
When: January, 2012

I’ve been itching to go back to Cuchi Cuchi since Libby and I were there last weekend for a drink after going to Bondir. With some plans having gone pear shaped at the last minute, I found the perfect opportunity to go last night.

Cuchi Cuchi is such a charming restaurant. The staff’s fanciful clothing (flapper dresses, feathers, pearls, and even a tutu!) matches the restaurant’s whimsical décor with stained glasses windows, overflowing vases, antique tables and jeweled lighting. And… no TV in the bar!! It has quickly gotten itself a spot up there with Upstairs on the Square and the Beehive, my favorites.

We got there about 45 minutes before our 7pm reservation and sat at the bar for cocktails. What a selection! I had a Pimm’s Cup which was great. At 7 the hostess told us they had a table for us but if we wanted to wait 20 minutes more they would have a better table. Sounds like a good deal to me. We ordered a bottle of wine, Quinta da Alorna ’08 from Portugal, at the bar while we waited.

Once we were seated at our especially nice table we pored over the menu trying to narrow down which tapas we wanted. So many options! I really, really wanted to get the Ceviche from Panama as it’s not often you see a dish from Panama on a menu in Boston (or anywhere in the US for that matter) and it reminds me of a lot of good memories as a kid. I lived in Panama for 13 years while until I moved to the US when I was 16. Ceviche reminds me of days spent out on the ocean or Gatun Lake with my family on our boat, the Eek-e-de (Originally called “The Weekender” but it lost a few letters). We would come into dock sleepy and warm from a day in the sunshine and it would be the perfect, zesty, fresh end the day. It cooled you from the inside out. Alas, the ceviche at Cuchi Cuchi was made with scallops which I am allergic to so that wasn’t going to work. I actually considered still getting it, telling myself maybe I was over my allergy but that wouldn’t have been smart.

We narrowed it down to four selections:

  • Brie en Croûte – Brie, walnuts, bacon in puff pastry
  • Fried Artichoke Hearts – filled w/ gorgonzola, pistachios & basil
  • Bracioletta Ripiena di Maiale – Grilled pork rolls stuffed w/pecorino cheese, pancetta, sautéed garlic
  • Potato Croquettes

I am not sure I can even categorize the above selections from my favorite to least favorite, they were all phenomenal. The brie was a lovely combination of salty and sweet and served with green apple for a little tartness. The artichoke hearts were lightly fried with a burst of gooey cheese and basil that sort of exploded, in the best possible way, in your mouth when you bit into it. The bracioletta was a little heavier (everything else was surprisingly light considering they were deep fried or wrapped in puff pastry), heartier and nice and salty. Being in the shape of an eggroll I kept expecting a dipping sauce but clearly they were not eggrolls and they did not need a sauce, they were plenty moist but still not fatty. If I had to choose a favorite I think it may have been the potato croquettes. I love anything croquettes. They were light and fluffy on the inside while crispy and golden fried on the outside. They were served with two sauces – a creamy alfredo and a zesty marinara. I saved one for my very last bite as that’s the flavor I wanted to be left with (until dessert that is).

Our waitress had recommended the French Banana Bread Extravaganza for dinner claiming she could eat one every night for dinner but we still, ignorantly, ordered the Tiramisu instead. We immediately regretted it as it just wasn’t that good. Sensing my disappointment and seeing me put down my spoon for the first time with a dessert on the table, my dinner date quickly flagged down our waitress and ordered the French Banana Bread Extravaganza. My hero!

The French Banana Bread Extravaganza came out practically on a platter. It was huge! There was no way we could finish the entire thing. Oh wait… yes, we could. The bananas were fried and caramelized and served with ice cream and whip cream and there must have been some bread in there somewhere. I didn’t stop long enough to really get a good look. This, along with a cup of coffee, was the perfect way to end a wonderful evening and an amazing meal.

I need to go back soon. Very soon.

Now for the pièce de résistance, the French Banana Bread Extravaganza in all its glory. Try to wrap your head around that.

How did Cuchi Cuchi measure up? 4.5 Spoons (too bad for that Tiramisu or it would have been 5)!

Cuchi Cuchi on Urbanspoon

Veal Scaloppine, Herb Roasted Potatoes, Carrot Salad and Molten Chocolate Cake, Recipes

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I don’t have guests over for dinner very often (New Years resolution to do that more) so when I do I spend an exorbitant amount of time pouring over tastespotting looking for the perfect recipe. This time I was looking for the perfect menu for a dinner at my place. I was excited.

So I searched for something both special but simple. How about Veal Scaloppine with Mushrooms & Marsala, Herb Roasted Potatoes, Carrot Salad with Lemon and Herbs, and Molten Chocolate Cake? Well, I’ve never cooked veal before and I’m not even sure I have ever had it before. But it sounds kinda fancy but looks kinda easy so lets do it.

I found both the Veal Scaloppine recipe and Herb Roasted Potatoes on Kitchen Runway’s blog, the Carrot Salad recipe in the NY Times Dining & Wine section, and the Molten Chocolate Cakes on Culinary Covers as it was featured in Woman’s Day magazine last year. Hows that for research and siting my sources?

Everything was fantastic. The recipes were all easy to follow and I was able to do 95% of the work before my guests even got to my house allowing me to enjoy time with them. The veal was tender and the sauce was rich and velvety. The potatoes were flavorful and the  thyme running through made them a natural pair with the veal. The carrot salad was light and a good alternative to a more typical greens salad. But then there is the cake… Mmmm the cake. The cake was so simple (5 ingredients which you could prepare ahead of time) and plated beautifully. The outside was set and firm like a cake but the center was gooey and spilled out like lava. My ramekins were a little wider than I wanted (or maybe I should have filled them up higher!) so the cakes came out a little short but they were delicious and beautiful. This recipe is for two cakes which you can double if you’d like (but its actually nice not to spend the following day eating leftover cake batter out of its bowl as I watch bad TV).  Its definitely a keeper (scroll all the way down for it).

I need to make those cakes again, who wants to come over so I have an excuse??

Here are the recipes – enjoy!

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Veal Scaloppine with Mushrooms and Marsala  adapted from Mario Batali

Prep:  15 minutes        Cooking time:  ~30mins            Serves: 4

Ingredients:
¼ C extra-virgin olive oil
¼ C all purpose flour
salt and fresh ground black pepper
8-10 (2oz) veal medallions (scaloppine)
2 C sliced crimini mushrooms
1½ C sweet Marsala wine
3 Tbs cold unsalted butter
2 Tbs fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp corn starch, 1 Tbs cold water (optional – if you prefer a thicker sauce)

Directions:

  • Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat until the oil is almost smoking
  • Place flour in a shallow dish (i.e. rectangular tupper-ware), season with salt and pepper
  • Dredge the veal in the seasoned flour, shaking off any excess flour
  • Placed dredged veal into hot pan and cook until golden brown on both sides (about 2 minutes each side)  Make sure to only turn once
  • Place cooked veal on platter
  • Add crimini mushrooms to the same pan and saute until tender, browned and the juices have evaporated.
  • Add Marsala wine and bring to a boil.  Cook until wine has reduced by 1/3
  • Add butter and place veal back into the pan.  Bring back to a boil and reduce heat.  Then simmer for 5 to 6 minutes
  • Mix corn starch and cold water, slowly add to pan and stir to thicken the sauce
  • Add thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper
  • Place veal on platter and pour the sauce over the meat and serve immediately

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Herb Roasted Potatoes 

Prep time:  5 mins  Cook time:  45-60 mins

Ingredients:
2-2½ lbs. assorted small potatoes (Fingerlings, Red Bliss, Yukon Gold)
¼ C extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs fresh rosemary
1 Tbs fresh thyme
4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp garlic salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 400º.
  • Place the clean potatoes in a large bowl.
  • In a measuring cup, whisk together the olive oil, rosemary, thyme, garlic, salt, garlic salt and pepper.  Pour olive oil mixture over potatoes.
  • Using your hands, combine the ingredients and make sure the potatoes are well coated.
  • Line a baking sheet with foil for easier clean up.  Using your hands, transfer the potatoes to the baking sheet.  Make sure the potatoes are in a single layer.  Save any unused oil from the bowl to dizzle over the potatoes after roasting.
  • Place baking sheet on the middle rack and roast for 45min to 60mins, until fork tender.  Turning the potatoes every 20 mins to prevent burning.
  • Remove from oven and add reserved oil to the potatoes, toss and serve.

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Carrot Salad With Lemon and Herbs

Adapted from “The Complete Robuchon” by Joël Robuchon (Knopf, 2008)

4 large or 6 medium carrots, peeled
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons peanut oil (or use more olive oil)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, tarragon or a combination
Salt to taste

Buttery crackers, small biscuits or toasted slices of baguette brushed with olive oil, for serving.

Grate carrots in a food processor or by hand. Transfer to a bowl. Whisk lemon juice and oils together, pour over carrots, and toss. Add herbs and toss. Add salt to taste. Serve with crackers, biscuits or toast.

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Molten Chocolate Cakes
Source: Women’s DayFebruary 2011

ingredients:
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for the ramekins
1 Tbsp. flour, plus more for the ramekins
1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

instructions:
1. Heat oven to 450°F. Butter two 6-oz ramekins and dust the inside with flour.
2. Place the butter and chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave on high in 20-second intervals, stirring after each, until melted and smooth.
3. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg, egg yolk and sugar in a medium bowl until thick and lighter in color, about 1 minute. Add the melted chocolate mixture and flour and beat until fully incorporated and smooth.
4. Divide the batter between the prepared ramekins. Bake until edges are set and center still jiggles slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. Let stand 15 seconds. Run a knife around edge, then invert each cake onto a plate. Dust with confections’ sugar and serve with fresh mint or berries, if desired. Serve immediately.

Coppa, South End

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Where: Coppa – 253 Shawmut Avenue Boston, MA 02118
When: November, 2011

I was thrilled when Alyssa suggested we try Coppa in the South End for our next outing as I have heard a lot of good things about this place. We set a date weeks in advance due to our (mostly her) crazy schedules. Then I get sent to New Orleans for a last minute work trip and the only direct flight back has me missing dinner so I booked a crappy connecting flight through Cincinatti. I was determined. My flight was about 20 minutes late so I was one of those people tearing through the airport with my scarf and suitcase flying behind me. I got there 10 minutes late and a little frantic but Alyssa seemed less fussed about my tardiness than I was (did I mention she had been there for 40 minutes total as we could only get a 6:30 reservation? She rocks).

All the running was well worth it – the place is charming and cozy! Like any real Italian place they pack a lot of tables into a small space but you don’t feel cramped or crowded. Its just right. The waitstaff are all casually dressed (Brandeis t-shirt on ours) and very friendly.

Alyssa started with the Aperol Spritz (aperol, prosecco and soda) which she confessed was one of the main reasons she wanted to come here. Aperol was her drink of choice while in Italy and not many places in Boston have it. She let me try it and we both looked at each other and exhaled “refreshing” at each other. I had a glass of the Cortese which was crisp and perfect to cool me down after my mad dash.

Now… food. We split a few things to be able to try as many things as we could. We started with the Funghi Marinati which isn’t just fun to say but fun to eat as well (as you try not to let your fork pop them off your plate on to your neighbor). These mushrooms were marinated and served in Eva’s herbs. Bravo, Eva. I have a special place for mushrooms in my heart and belly as from about 12-16 years old that’s the only thing I would agree to eat when dining out. As a family we would go to these wonderful restaurants from Sao Paulo to Vancouver and I would threaten to starve myself unless the chef sauteed mushrooms and plopped them on some toast for me. I was practically made of mushrooms.

We then got the Prosciutto di Parma, a generous plate of salty prosciutto drizzled with just a drop of olive oil. Eat it on bread, eat it with more oil, eat it alone. No matter how you eat it, its salty goodness.

Here comes the Mele e Burrata. Heirloom apples with Maria’s Burrata and charred lemon. I was a little lukewarm about this one. I couldn’t quite pin it down but it was just a little too tart for me and I’m just not crazy about the flavor combination although I love all the components separately.

And now. Get ready. Arancini! Not only fun to say, as anything ending in “cini” is, but terribly delicious. These are traditional fried risotto balls with fontina cheese. Oh my. Yes. Four more orders please. They were deep fried and crisp on the outside but you cracked it open with your fork to reveal the softest creamiest risotto. I don’t know what sauce they served it with but I did find myself stealing the last piece of bread to sop up the remainder of it once I had polished off my arancini. This was the highlight for me, hands down.

Would I go back? I have to, there are so many things I didn’t get to try! Like the Sea urchin and salami panino with mustard seeds, the house-cured white anchovies, and the fluke crudo. Those are just the small plates, just wait until you see the full menu!

How did Coppa measure up? 5 Spoons!

Coppa on Urbanspoon

Alibi & Bin26, Beacon Hill

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Where: Alibi - 215 Charles Street, Boston MA 02114
When: November, 2011

Built in 1851 as a prison for some of Boston’s most notorious inmates, what was the Charles Street Jail shut down in 1990 after the prisoners revolted against the poor living conditions. It then reopened, after a $150 million acquisition, renovation and construction project, in 2007 as the Liberty Hotel. The hotel, along with its 5 restaurants and bars, have been buzzing since and I finally found out why last night – it was so cool! I regret not having wandered through the hotel and other bars while I was there but now have reason to go back.

After work I met up with Libby and Mr. S at Alibi on the entry level of the hotel. The bar consists of two long brick walled rooms, like wide hallways, divided down the middle with a large brick wall with a few openings and “windows” with prison bars. On one side of the room there are low tables and couches and on the other (the bar side, where we were) there are high tops and stools. We could see the diners on the other side of the wall through the prison bars which I thought was pretty neat. They stuck with the prison “theme” with the decor with wanted posters of well known people on the walls.

Their cocktail menu looked really good with some fun names like “Jailbait” and “The Scurvy Elixer” but knowing I was having wine at dinner I started off with the same – a glass of the Pinot Noir Balleto, Russian River Valley – which didn’t disappoint.

How did Alibi measure up? 4 Spoons!

Where: Bin2626 Charles Street Boston, MA 02114
When: November 18, 2011

After drinks at Alibi we said goodbye to Mr. S, who was probably happy to not have to hear us talking about the RHOBH any more, and headed to Bin26. We were surprised by how large the restaurant actually is when you get inside as it looks quite small from the street. We got a great seat right by the window, a tip of the hat to making reservations.

The wine menu here is impressive; the hostess explains how to look through the 20+ page book of wines when you sit down. They have over 60 wines by the glass and over 200 wines by the bottle. I have to say I got a little nervous when the first few I saw were over $120 a bottle (I’d love to roll that way but not quite there yet with my career in the non-profit world) but we found a nice bottle of Sangiovese that was a little closer to our budget. I don’t think I had had Sangiovese before so that was exciting. I was declared “the mouth” and tasted the wine for the table. Yep, tastes good to me! It was around this time we declared that we should go to more wine tastings to know how to actually do it right.

Ok, time to look over the menu. Everything looked really good but we had been warned to stay away from the Risotto by Mr. S who found it too salty. We still had plenty to choose from. We had narrowed down a few options when our waiter, who seemed to find us amusing for some reason, let us know they were out of the Caprese salad. That was one of the items we were going to get so when he saw we were disappointed he told us there was one more and he could run to the kitchen and get them to hold it for us if we wanted. Yes please – run!

The service was great, another one of those places where you have 4 people coming and going from your table but you barely notice them, very seamless.

We ordered four items , creating a bit of a tapas theme, which came out in intervals which was perfect for our small table. We started with the Caprese Heirloom Tomato Salad with Buffalo Mozzarella and Basil. (pictured). Simple enough but, wow, was the mozzarella fresh. It was almost the consistency of a poached egg, firm on the outside but soft inside. The salad was lightly dressed and the perfect amount of basil to tomato to mozzarella.

Side note: I need the new iPhone that has the camera with flash, the photos I took all look terrible.

We then got the Grilled Octopus with Fava Beans, Olive Oil Poached Potatoes & a Limoncello Vinaigrette. I’ve been obsessed with octopus since Libby introduced it to me this summer so get pretty excited anytime I see it on a menu. We both thought the salad was a little too lemony which I now understand why, its not just lemon vinaigrette but lemoncello which is sweeter. The potatoes were really good as were the fava beans (something I don’t eat enough of) but we both wished there had been more octopus. There were maybe 4 small bite sized pieces which left us wanting more.

The next thing we got was the Mussels with White Wine and Spicy Tomato. I loved this which is funny as later in the night I couldn’t remember what the 3rd dish we had was. I don’t think that’s indicative that its a forgettable dish though, I blame the Sangiovese. The mussels were fresh and the sauce was just the right amount of spicy. We had to ask for more bread around this point so I could mop up the sauce at the end.

We then (does it ever end?) shared the Homemade Ricotta Gnocchi with Cherry Tomato, Basil and Baby Calamari. We both agreed that this was our favorite item of the night. Not that the others were delicious but this one went the extra mile. The gnocchi were big soft pillows of cheese perfectly complimented by the calamari and tomato. More bread please as I have to eat as much of this sauce as possible.

We weren’t planning on getting dessert but the waiter twisted our arms by exclaiming “You two are too skinny, of course you are getting dessert”. Okay, fine. As if we hadn’t had enough cheese we got the Manchego cheese plate. It was served with a small side of honey and some walnuts which was the perfect combination with the saltiness of the cheese.

Bravo, Bin26!

How did Bin 26 measure up? 5 Spoons!

Where: Trina’s Starlite Lounge- 3 Beacon Street, Somerville MA 02143
When: November 18, 2011

After dinner we payed an unexpected visit to Trina’s in Inman Square. Its always a fun place to go late night (10pm is considered “late night”, right?) as we tend to run people we know. I’ve had dinner here before, which was excellent, but just stuck to the champagne of beers, High Life, this time. Go for their fried chicken though, it was rated one of the top 10 places for fried chicken in the country by Bon Appetit.

After my 1.8 mile walk home I had to top off the night with a cupcake. Not just any cupcake but a yellow box birthday cupcake.

How did Trina’s measure up? 3.75 Spoons!

Bin 26 Enoteca on Urbanspoon

Grotto, Beacon Hill

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Where: Grotto - 37 Bowdoin Street Boston, MA 02114
When: October, 2011

A friend of mine took me here for lunch right before my birthday. I had never been to Grotto so didn’t know what to expect but as soon as we walked down those step and pulled the curtain back to enter the dining room I knew I was in love. The restaurant is small and cozy and you really feel like you stepped off a side street in Rome. Two walls are lined with bottles of wine and brick. The staff was friendly and service quick but not rushed (not always the case during week day lunches). Beyond all this, it was romantic. At lunch! The light was dim but bright enough to see what you were eating, it was warm and cozy, and it wasn’t too loud.

With the afternoon sun and little wine (don’t judge, it was a special occasion) I forget it we ordered an appetizer but the entrees sure do stand out. We agreed to get two items and share but we ended up liking our dishes so much we didn’t swap halfway through. He got the Gnocchi, Braised short ribs with Mushrooms and Gorgonzola which was rich and something you would crave in the middle of winter. I got the Crab ravioli with Asparagus, Almonds, and Saffron which was light, warm and super flavorful.

It was the perfect hideaway.

How did Grotto measure up? 5 Spoons!

Gran Gusto, Huron Village

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Where: Gran Gusto – 90 Sherman Street Cambridge, MA 02140
When: September, 2011

I first heard about Gran Gusto the day I moved into my apartment in 2010 after going to Paddy’s Lunch to find out that Paddy’s Lunch didn’t serve lunch. Interesting. The bartender recommended Gran Gusto down the road. It’s in an odd little spot in a strip mall-like building with Comcast a couple doors down and connected to a few offices. The décor can be a little cheesy in daylight (nighttime makes it more charming) but everything else was exceptional.

The waiter was charming and would only take my order if I tried it in Italian which got me to loosen up after a day of moving and lifting boxes. We all ordered pizzas and, boy, was that a good decision. My dad claimed it was the best pizza he has had in Boston (or was it the US?) and I had to do everything I could not to eat more than half so I could enjoy it as my first dinner in my new place as well. I got the Arugola Pizza, which I have had every time I have been back since. Tomato sauce, bufula mozzarella, prosciutto, arugula, and parmigiano cheese. The dough is just the right amount of chewy, the prosciutto is salty, the arugula is peppery, the sauce is slightly sweet. Its like a taste explosion.

Did I mention it’s a couple blocks from my house?

Gotta go, my pizza is ready for pick up.