Restaurant week comes to Boston but just twice a year- and I will say they are some of my favorite weeks ever in this city! Most of the best restaurants in Boston offer three course meals for lunch and dinner, at the very reasonable prices of $20.08 for lunch and $33.08 for dinner.
Wednesday evening four of my friends and I went out to Dante, a restaurant in the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge, to indulge in our three courses, and to celebrate our girl K's birthday! I had heard very little about Dante previous to our plans to go there, other than that a good friend had dined there the Friday previous and had loved it. So I was very excited to check it out.
We arrived, and because M was smart enough to make reservations weeks ago, we were seated right away. We were given our limited selection Restaurant Week menus, a wine list and a coctail menu. As I had been dreaming about this dinner for a few weeks, I had already reviewed the menu and knew exactly what my first course, entree and dessert selections would be. I have to say first, that service at Dante went well beyond my expectations. Our waitress greeted us right away, was warm and friendly, and was able to make suggestions and recommendations. As she did not rush our orders, we were able to sit and soak up the atmosphere (they had sat us near a window that looked out over the Charles and the Boston city skyline), enjoy our drinks, indulge on bread that was readily refilled, and chat amongst ourselves. I feel as though timing is key to the restaurant business, not just within the kitchen-though that is absolutely my biggest challenge when cooking- but in the front of the house as well. There is a delicate balance between rushing a table and making them wait too long. The staff at Dante had it down to a science.
Once we finally did order, it didnt take them long to bring out our first course. I had chosen their cauliflower soup with scollaps and hazelnuts. The soup consisted of creamed cauliflower, enhanced with a small amount of oil over the top, and then garnished with small scollaps, chopped hazelnuts and fresh herbs. My only complaint was that there wasnt more of it. The soup itself had a delicate flavor to it wherein it was creamy, but not over powering, and the flavor of the cauliflower itself was also muted. The hazelnuts added a surprising, but very pleasing crunch that off set the textures, and the scollaps were perfectly cooked and added a nice accent to the other ingredients. M had selected the same first course and was equally pleased by it. The others in our party had chosen to have the gnocchi, which had been mixed with a duck ragu, black cherries, ricotta salata, and duck fat frites. K insisted that I try a portion of hers, it was also delicious. The combination of the cherries with the duck was perfect, and while I thought that gnocchi was a bit overcooked, the dish was very well put together.
My entree was salmon cooked medium rare, served over soft polenta and mushrooms. Salmon is by far my favorite fish, and I normally will order it when its served in a restaurant. Dante did a beautiful job on its preparation. Ive found that salmon can often be over seasoned because of its delicate flavor. So its a trick to not go overboard. Additionally, it should always be served medium rare, but this is also difficult to achieve. Dante successfully did both, it was cooked to a perfect temperature, and it held its own flavor well. It was accented nicely by the earthy mushrooms and the creamy polenta. While I really enjoyed the dish, the menu had listed horseradish as an ingredient as well, however I did not taste this at all. Im a horseradish lover, and it had influenced my decision in choosing the entree, so I was a bit disappointed that it appeared to be missing, or under used to such a degree that its potent flavor was lost.
The rest of my table also enjoyed their meals- although I was too enraptured with my own to taste test, they gave them their highest reviews of "mmmmm"s and satisfied sighs.
We then chose our desserts- an olive oil cake accented with limoncello zabaglione and sections of various types of citrus fruits. Olive Oil cake is by nature a rather dry cake, and having no distinct flavor of its own, it takes on the flavors of any accents very well. In this casethe limoncello and the citrus fruits made this dessert very light and spring like in its flavors.
Overall I was extremely impressed by Dante. Their food was delicious with inventive combinations of flavors and textures, and their service went above and beyond. For every course that they brought out a server explained in detail what the dish was, and how it was prepared. On K's dessert plate they spelled out Happy Birthday in chocolate. They found the smallest of details to pay attention to and it resulted in a highly enjoyable experience. I would recommend Dante with the very high praise.