Springtime is always such a busy time of year as the people of New England emerge from our warm winter cocoons and venture back out into the world. This weekend was especially busy for us here at A Boston Food Diary as my sister's birthday fell in close proximity to Mother's Day making for a wonderful joint celebration. We decided to kick things off by a nice dinner out on Saturday evening.
Since my sister moved out of Boston, I have decided that she of course doesn't have any access to the web or knowledge of Boston restaurants, so my mother and I put together a list of restaurants that either we've heard wonderful things about, or have just been wanting to check out, and sent my sister the list for her to choose where to go to dinner. She narrowed it down to two places, and I made the final decision that we would head to Erbaluce, an Italian restaurant located in the Bay Village area of the city.
Erbaluce opened in the fall of 2008, and has since placed incredibly high on my list of "go to" restaurants, but for whatever the reason, I just hadn't made it there. I selected it as an option, and ultimately the choice, for my sisters birthday as it concentrates on Italian cuisine, but does so without creating enormously heavy meals. Chef Charles Draghi looks to incorporate the beautiful flavors and feelings of an Italian meal, but works to do so without clogging all of our arteries with heavy butter and cream sauces. Additionally, I've heard that Erbaluce is open to diner's sharing different courses and creating more of a "family" style dining experience than a traditional restaurant. As my family enjoys trying a little of this and a little of that- this sounded perfect to us.
We arrived at Erbaluce and were immediately welcomed by the hostess who made us feel right at home, despite our table not being available yet. Unconcerned by this, we headed to the bar area to have a cocktail as we waited. However, even before we received our order, our table was ready, and we were assured that our drinks would be served to us at our table. I always have a pet peeve when restaurants refuse to transfer bar tabs to the table. It seems rather finicky, and creates much more stress for a patron to have to quickly try to close a tab in order to appease a waiting hostess, and then juggle drinks and coats to your table. Erbaluce-thank you for transferring our tab for us and bringing us our drinks to the table. Points to you.
Once we were seated at our table, drinks successfully delivered, we began to pour through the menu while nibbling on the delicious bread that was served with a fantastic herb ed white bean dip. Judging by the dip alone, I knew that we were in for a treat. We finally decided to share three of their first courses, a pasta dish, and a seafood entree. We started with their Razor Clams, a dish that I've read countless rave reviews on, their Radicchio salad with locally made Buratta, and their Speck with Apples and Mint. The clams did not disappoint- served in a broth of fennel, leek and white wine, the flavors were clean and delicious. I love roasted fennel as it takes on such a lovely sweet taste, and after my obsessive lunch at On The Marsh and their delicious Potato and Leek Soup- well I'm taking a whole new look at Leeks. The combination of the light onion Leek flavor combined with the slightly sweet Fennel with a clear and robust broth was absolutely delicious, and the clams, a bit milder than the clams I'm used to were well cooked, and a lovely pairing when your fork contained a bit of each. My sister, detective that she is, spied a big hunk of bread in the bottom of the bowl when we finished the clams that had soaked up as much of the broth as it could hold, and was now this lovely flavor filled soaked bread that forkfuls of were deliciously decadent.
Speck, as our waiter described to us, is similar to smoked Prosciutto. Further research provided me with an answer of ham enhanced with the flavor of Juniper berries. At Erbaluce they paired it with tart Granny smith apples and finely chopped mint leaves. The combination of flavors was surprising, but lovely. The savory ham with the sweet tart apple and twist of mint created a really intriguing flavor that was spring like, and gloriously light.
My favorite of the first course though was the Radicchio salad with locally made Burrata and Pistachios. I really love Radicchio. There is something about it's incredibly bitter flavor that makes me think that it is chock full of vitamins and good things. Now I may not be too far off- apparently Radicchio is a leafy version of Chicory which is said to assist in the demise of parasites in the body. After the water scare here in Boston last week- I'm in favor of anything that kills parasites. That aside though,I was excited to try this simple salad. The Radicchio had been lightly dressed with what tasted to be a lemon vinaigrette, simple and non overpowering, and then laid on the plate with a beautiful mound of Burrata cheese in the middle, sprinkled with whole Pistachios. Burrata
However, more delights awaited us. We selected their Scallops and their Gnocchi dishes as our shared main courses. The Scallops were amazing, both in taste as well as in presentation. Erbaluce graciously plated our Scallops separately even though we had asked for just one serving, and ensure that we each received a beautiful Scallop shell, generously served with three Scallops per person and shrimp as well. This was served with a lovely pea green salad and gorgeous lemon enhanced butter beans. The most intriguing part of this gorgeous dish? Each shell that we received had its own Scallop inside, so we became responsible for removing them from their own homes. While this sparked much conversation, it was incredibly interesting to be a part of this process and I believe created a more intimate dining experience. It also solidly reinforced the knowledge that everything that Chef Charles Draghi is serving is impossibly fresh. All that aside, the dish really was delicious. The Scallops were perfectly cooked and seasoned with a fresh herbs and a light broth, and the pea green salad was the perfect accompaniment to a lovely spring dish.
After enjoying my Scallops, I tuned my attention to the Gnocchi dish, served with a ragu like sauce of boar and root vegetables. Though this was a perfectly wintry preparation, we immediately understood why it remained in early May. It was wonderfully delicious. The Gnocchi were perfectly soft pillows of potato pasta, so well made that they defiantly stood against the common thought that Gnocchi is "heavy" meal. Despite their own lightness though, they stood up to the strong Boar, which, though it demanded the strong brown sauce it came with, was wonderfully flavorful without weighing down the dish. The two together were a perfect match and one that shall not soon be forgotten.
Now, as we were dining in honor of a birthday, we decided that dessert could not be over looked. So we indulged in an orange chocolate tart topped with beautiful whipped cream and lovely candied orange rind. Oh my very goodness. The richness of the chocolate paired perfectly with the light citrus taste of the orange. The only misstep that I can see here, or really through the entire meal was the crust of the tart was a bit loose to stand up to the bold flavors of the chocolate and the orange and sadly got a bit lost in the enjoyment. However, the ill effects of this were incredibly minimal.
Many of the reviews that I have read of Erbaluce hold it as the best Italian Restaurant in Boston, and place it well within the top overall restaurants in Boston. I went on Saturday evening anticipating a fantastic meal, but worried that my high expectations may not be met. I am very happy to report that my expectations were more than met, and were in fact, well exceeded. Chef Draghi has a wonderful skill in matching beautifully fresh ingredients into thoughtful and delicious flavor combinations. With each dish it is obvious that he takes care to ensure that every one is show pieced and their qualities recognized.
Erbaluce- you are one amazing spot- I will definitely be back!