Thursday, July 11, 2013

Gennaro's 5 North Square, North End, Boston

Several years ago I headed to Gennaro's 5 North Square for dinner and walked away feeling rather "meh" about it.  It was serving typical Italian American food- not bad per-say, but nothing remarkable.  Nothing like what I knew my grandmother served to her family each night.  About a year ago though, I heard that they had replaced their chef, and people started to rave.  All of a sudden Gennaro's 5 North Square became a spot that was high on the dining card in the North End, and so when I was invited in to have dinner and check out the culinary prowess of Marissa Iocco.  

Chef Iocco emigrated here to America from Italy years ago, and fell in love with the North Square.  She has worked in other incredible spots around the North End and is now bringing her knowledge of Italy, and her unique twist on what she calls MANGIAmerica.  For clarification sake- MANGIAmerica refers to the melding of Italian cuisine and American tastes.  The example Iocco uses is Chicken Parmesan.  A delicious dish, but not one that hails from Italy.  This
combination of breaded chicken, marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese is an American adaptation.  Basically, the way I think about it is, if the dish is smothered in sauce and cheese- it's probably more American than it is Italian.

Gennaro's 5 North Square, under the watchful eye of Chef Iocco is marrying Italian to MANGIAmerica and creating approachable food with strong, true Italian influences.

Our meal began with a trio of appetizers.  Mushrooms Rosemary Torta, Burratina Caprese and Shrimp Scampi Scotatti.  The Mushrooms Rosemary Torta was, at its most basic level, a bread pudding.  However think of the most wonderful bread pudding, soft in the center, slightly crispy outsides, the richness of butter throughout....Now throw in that wonderfully savory rosemary and earthy mushrooms.  The combination was phenomenal. I then moved over to the Scampi. Now traditionally scampi tends to be shrimp in butter and garlic and perhaps a little Parmesan cheese.  Iocco twists it slightly and brings out the sweetness with a touch of Madeira wine and and a heavy hand of fresh breadcrumbs.  The shrimp were plump and their natural sweetness was only enhanced by the splash of sweet wine.  The breadcrumbs added a crunchy contrast and that wonderful flavor of garlic we seek.  I definitely enjoyed this before I turned my attention to my favorite- the Burratina.  I adore Burrata cheese, and this was made locally by a friend of Ioccos which to me made it even better because you just knew that love was
involved.  and sure enough as as I brought my fork to the oozing center of the mozzarella ball I was rewarded with a perfect bite of salty, creamy cheese.  Paired with acidic tomato, a hint of black pepper and fresh basil, this was a perfect tribute to summer.

Next up was our pasta course. Chef Iocco presented us with three different representations of her pastas- Chitarrine Bolognese, Manicotti Italo- Americani, and Bombolotti di Carciofi.  I loved the Bolognese.  I often look to Bolognese to
show the authenticity of an Italian restaurant.  Too often it ends up being marinara with some ground beef mixed in.  Real Bolognese is made by slow cooking a variety of meats, and then adding stock and milk or cream and maybe just a touch of tomato for its acidic qualities.  Iocco kept true to her roots and her Bolognese was bright, yet creamy and full of flavor.  Paired with fresh pasta- I could have eaten a huge bowl of this.  Next up was the Manicotti, Crespelli pasta filled with ricotta and spinach and topped with a simple tomato
and basil ragu.  Manicotti can often be a heavy dish and the filling is often to blame - Iocco's however was still light in feeling, despite its decadence, and the thin pasta made it addictive.  It was a perfect rendition.  Finally it was time for the Bombolotti di Carciofi- a ravioli filled with ricotta and artichokes, swimming in a saffron rich sauce and topped with more artichokes and green peas.  The saffron sauce was rich and decadent, a beautiful, natural yellow color and bursting with the herbaceous flavor of the saffron.  I loved the addition of the spring sweet peas and the artichokes gave a wonderful slightly acidic contrast.  

We then were treated to a beautiful piece of cod which had been cooked in parchment paper with little white potatoes and black olives.  This was the perfect summer dish, light with the flaky white fish but filling with potatoes.  The olives added a wonderfully salty component and together the flavors bounced off of each other.

And then, after all of that- we began our Meatball Extravaganza!  In front of
each of us was placed a plate full of meatballs- the Classico, beef with Parmesan, garlic and herbs; the Maiale Cacciatore, made of pork loin with pancetta, peppers and a Marinara dipping sauce; Vitello Saltimbocca  which combined veal with proscuitto and provolone cheese with an au jus type sauce; the Pollo Marsala where chicken was blended with mushrooms and mozzarella and served with a Marsala wine sauce and finally a Melanzana Parmigiana which brought together roasted eggplant with mozzarella, basil and marinara sauce.  

Each meatball had its own unique flavor and twist, but my personal favorites were the Pork which was spicy and rich with pancetta, and the the veal which was so tender and full of flavor, it melted in ones mouth. These were meatballs to write home about.  

Now, when I heard that Gennaro's had gotten in a new chef some time ago, the first thing that I was told to try was their bread pudding for dessert.  It sounded like an odd thing for an Italian restaurant, but loving bread pudding, I was delighted to see that it was on our menu for dessert, in two different varieties.  First up was Vanilla Bread Pudding served
with a salty caramel sauce, followed by Chocolate Bread Pudding served with chocolate ganache.  The chocolate was deep and dark, decadent to the max, but oddly enough was showed up by the incredible Vanilla.  The combination of clean vanilla with salty caramel harboring that slightly burned flavor that makes it so delicious.  I could absolutely go back just for the bread pudding.

Gennaro's 5 North Square is leaps and bounds above where it was those years back.  Chef Iocco has brought an incredibly authentic vibe while still incorporating the favorites we Americans love so much.  Gennaro's is definitely a must go to, believe me- it makes for a perfect date spot.



Delicious Dishings said...

I'm bummed I couldn't make it to this event. I love Italian food and all those pasta courses look amazing!

Sarah Beth said...

So jealous! I envy your food adventures!

In and Around Town said...

This looks so delicious! I haven't been there before, but definitely will seek it out now. North Square is such a great little place in the North End...So happy they have stepped up their game!

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