Thursday, April 7, 2016

Rosetta’s in Canton an Italian Restaurant Nonna Would be Proud of

“A bottle of red, a bottle of white, it all depends on your appetite.” I couldn’t shake Billy Joel’s classic ode to Italian cuisine in “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” as I dined at Rosetta’s Italian Restaurant in Canton, MA. The eatery is located in the town center, in an unassuming white building it shares with other tenants and what was once Rosario’s restaurant. Gone are the cramped quarters, rambunctiously noisy atmosphere, and blue collar service, replaced with a front to back dining room that lends to more intimate dining and conversations. The wait staff is friendly and patient, if not a bit too slowly paced (a 2 plus hour sitting on a not so busy Thursday evening). But that’s beside the point. If the rather non-descript building in which Rosetta’s resides is considered unassuming, then consider the food itself - much of it handmade and packed with bold flavors – a declaration that this eatery is a noteworthy addition to Canton and the local dining scene.

This is in large part to its staff, helmed by an owner who served in the Armed Forces for twenty years and strives for perfection, while a key member of his wait staff served as Food Manager for Quincy Hospital for ten years prior to its recent closure. The menu also boasts a very affordable price point (most appetizers are $6-$8, while large entrees range from $12-$16 and desserts top out at $7). The kitchen is also very flexible accommodating requests for substitutions.

Appetizers are surprisingly not Italian-inspired (perplexing sides of nachos, potato skins, and chicken wings don’t necessarily pair well with a bottle of vino). With that said, the BBQ crazy wings my son orders possess a wonderfully crispy exterior and a meaty, tender interior. As for entrees, the veal marsala is the most satisfying version I’ve consumed since Delfino’s memorable take in Roslindale. The veal was extremely tender, while the sauce – one that so many restaurant’s claim can produce but very few properly execute – is pure heaven: a thick, buttery, topping laced with fresh mushrooms. The meat was paired with house-made parpadelle, perhaps a tad undercooked (not quite al dente), but the noodles were a delicious complimentary sauce-sopper, nonetheless. The veal parmigiana was no slouch, either, a mammoth piece of perfectly breaded meat topped with a zesty, hearty marinara sauce.

Desserts are decent, if not less memorable. While the tiramisu’s cake was spongy and nicely soaked in rum, and a spiced homemade carrot cake was warm and comforting, both suffered from excess frosting. I’m afraid White’s Bakery (Brockton, Mansfield) and Montilio’s (Braintree) would be the nearest locations, outside of the North End, to find that perfect cannoli.

Rosetta’s also stocks a very reasonably priced ($6-9 by the glass, $22-40 by the bottle), short selection of wines. About a half dozen reds and whites primarily hail from Italy with a few outliers from California and Washington. A fruity La Maialina “Gertrude” Tuscan red blend and a complex, velvety J Lohr cabernet provided noteworthy sips.

As our meal concludes, I find myself gravitating back to the apt lyrics of that classic Billy Joel tune. “We’ll get a table near the street, in our old familiar place.” That’s what Rosetta’s is: nothing flashy on the outside, taking its place alongside busy Washington Street, and yet, creating surprisingly well executed, flavorful Italian cuisine. This eatery can most certainly become that old familiar place both couples and families should seek out for a satisfying dining experience.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Los Andes Faces a ‘Mountain’ of Scrutiny

If the Andes in South America represent the largest continental mountain range in the world, then the Providence-based restaurant, Los Andes, typifies a steep decline from the lofty expectations and reputation that precedes it. Situated in a rather sketchy, dilapidated neighborhood on Chalkstone Avenue (most definitely off the beaten path from the more polished downtown area and the Italian-American charm of the Hill), the restaurant’s exterior more closely resembles the now shuttered Whitey Bulger South Boston bar Triple O’s (replete with brick exterior, blue awning and illuminated signs from the windows harkening to the 1970s) than a modern, inviting setting. And yet, inexplicably, Los Andes features free valet service and servers in suits and ties that seem out of synch with its ultra-casual ambience and décor (including a large fish tank separating an old-school bar from the main dining room). It’s evident that the restaurant is trying too hard to overcompensate for these shortcomings, and we haven’t even touched our food yet.

                That’s not to say that some of the very affordable Peruvian and Bolivian inspired meat and seafood dishes don’t reach the culinary heights that Los Andes’s name implies. A ceviche martini ($9.95) is stuffed with fresh tilapia, squid, shrimp, and mussels, a solid seafood cocktail. It’s relatively well seasoned with fish sauce, lime juice (perhaps applied a tad too generously given a trace of excess sourness) and cilantro. My dining companion and I - always the adventurous, Anthony Bourdain-like eaters that we are - are fascinated by and immediately gravitate towards a unique special of llama tacos ($11.99), which are packed with surprisingly tender, un-gamey shredded meat. Empanadas de pollo ($2.95) are satisfying, two flakey pastries filled with nicely seasoned shredded chicken (a cheese version, however, is quite bland).

                While most entrees (majority of which range from $11.95-$19.95) show promise, they often fail to live up to the hype. The menu is laced with exciting options at first glance, but upon closer review, is extremely redundant and protein/carb heavy, as most dishes are accompanied by fried eggs, rice, and yucca. The Jalea (Peruvian fisherman medley, $16.95) is packed with a generous portion of seafood that was nicely battered with kiko soy and garlic, but the chalaca salsa it was topped with was far too mild, while some of the fish itself – seemingly undercooked - left my stomach in knots after two unsuccessful attempts to consume it. Paella ($16.95) was a satisfactory, traditional version that could have benefitted from additional heat, smokiness, and a bit more grittiness on the rice.

                Fortunately, I have a sweet tooth, and it was satisfied with a delightful house special of passion fruit coconut cheesecake (all of the desserts were shown off a la carte by our server), the cheesecake airy and light, while the coconut flakers were discernably scrumptious.

                Service was adequate, our waitress knowledgeable and competent enough with the exception of an extremely odd, uncomfortable exchange I shared with her over an incorrectly made cocktail. When I noticed that my drink was mixed with neither fresh pineapple slices or jalapeno liquor, the waitress never apologized, neither offering me a new drink nor comping it altogether from our bill. Instead, she replied that “… the bartender must have been out of pineapple, so that’s why you got what you got.” Neat.

                But given all of the surrounding hype that Los Andes has achieved on reviewer sites like Yelp, the restaurant evokes the same sort of response from me – merely a shrug. What’s the big deal about this place, after all? I suppose if the food is slightly above average quality and reasonably priced, the masses will approve. Me? I’d rather take my culinary expedition elsewhere prior to scaling the culinary heights of Los Andes. Its peaks simply aren’t high enough to warrant enough excitement for a return trip.

Monday, November 23, 2015

This Birch Leaves You Hungry For More

Providence’s Birch has garnered much acclaim since its opening two years ago, right next door to the city’s other revered fine dining restaurant, Gracie’s. Whereas the latter treats its customers like royalty in a more grandiose setting (i.e. tables sparkling with confetti, complimentary amuse bouches throughout the meal, free valet parking, complimentary house baked chocolate chip cookies left in one’s vehicle), the former aims for delivering serious Modern American cuisine, albeit in a minimalist setting and with smaller portions at a similar price point (4 course prix fixe at $49). Is Birch worth the price of admission?

               Chef Benjamin Sukle is considered a big deal in these parts, having previously worked at the Dorrance and apprenticed at one of the world’s most acclaimed restaurant’s, Copenhagen’s Noma. Therefore, one expects big, bold flavors, unique ingredients, and beautiful presentations. Sukle’s wife, co-owner and GM Heidi, happily greets customers at the bar.

               The restaurant’s vibe is casually chic, resembling a sushi bar with a U-shaped, illuminated counter that tightly seats 20 customers (the squeaking sound of seats moving in and out evokes nails on a chalkboard). A friendly, knowledgeable bartender mixes a small list of well-balanced, potent cocktails. Notable options ably blend drier spirits with citrus flavors, from the Royal ($10), consisting of rye, chamomile, sherry and lemon to the Scarborough ($12), which has bourbon, chartreuse, and lemon. Back to that sushi bar theme, Ginjo sake ($12) has a nice clean finish and makes for a refreshing beverage when mixed with dolin blanc and lime.

               Terrific flavors, however, are often overshadowed by petty portion sizes. Sukle himself brings out a chip (yes, one chip) as an amuse bouche. While the preparation and flavors of this chip are intriguing (made of mushroom, filled with apple butter and black garlic), it can only be enjoyed in one small bite. When Sukle states that it is okay to use one’s hands to eat the chip, I almost burst out laughing, thinking to myself, “As opposed to the tweezers I’d need to pick this up?” There is no starch provided at the meal (bread, breadsticks, crackers, anything!), and most courses offer only 3-4 bites apiece. Rhode Island mushrooms with teeny-tiny chicken hearts (and maybe a miniature hazelnut or two) are delicious, but as the elderly Wendy’s spokeswoman once said, “Where’s the beef?” My favorite course is a lovely, tender Rhode Island fluke grilled on the bone with broccoli and potato, but it is gone in 4 bites. Parting is such sweet sorrow. My wife enjoys a nicely cooked suckling pork, but it is a very small, nondescript piece that sits rather limply on the dish and to me, tastes overseasoned with salt.

               Desserts are also whimsical in execution but restrained in portion size, including the Apple, which is a smashed version of the fruit laced with raspberry sauce.

               If you’re looking for a unique dining experience, Birch has the potential to be that dining destination. But with portions bordering on pretentious, it’s difficult to recommend. Birch is Providence’s version of Clio, which boasts fascinating flavors and culinary techniques, but portions at unsustainable price points that literally leave you hungry for more. Clio is sadly closing its doors at the end of this year, and I am hopeful that the Sukle’s will take their cue from the public’s disdain for overpriced cuisine. While in life, sometimes less is more, at Birch, more is desperately needed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bigger is Not Necessarily Better at Strega Waterfront

Go big or go home.  That has always seemed to be the mantra of affable restaurateur Nic Varano, who began his empire with North End’s Strega in 2003 and boldly followed that with his flagship destination, Strega Waterfront in 2010. Strega Waterfront, located at Fan Pier in Boston’s Seaport District, is 5,700 square feet of pure opulence, from its dramatic décor featuring multiple fireplaces and flat screen televisions (even caught the Alabama-Ole Miss football game in the restroom!), oval-shaped awnings, a large piano, and Italian-imported flooring to the celebrity clientele (or those that may dress like and think they resemble one) to which it caters. And this is an Italian-inspired restaurant after all, didn’t you know? Mob movies are humorously played on those rows of televisions, while large portraits including the likes of Sinatra and Pacino adorn the walls. Hoo-ahh! The scene is loud and lively. But is Strega’s cuisine under the guidance of Executive Chef Salvatore Firicano as bold and exciting as its atmosphere?

               Pricey cocktails average out at $15 (paying above and beyond is a common theme at most Waterfront-based restaurants, but it’s exacerbated across Strega’s entire menu), and are served either on the rocks on ‘Up’ (straight up, martini-style). While potent, these drinks are not quite as balanced as one would hope. A pomegranate margarita with jalapeno packs subtle heat, but the sweetness of the tequila is a bit lost (as it is in a similar watermelon-flavored concoction). A dining companion’s Bee’s Knees swaps out gin for bourbon, but in this case, the honey and simply syrup with which it is infused is poured with a heavy hand, the drink far too sweet. The Knight Time tastes purely of bourbon, with nary a trace of Grand Marnier, and is quickly removed and substituted with a much more balanced, refreshing beverage consisting of port wine, ginger, and pineapple that lingers on the palate. If cocktails aren’t your preference, the wine list unsurprisingly leans heavily on Italian varieties, but others hail from France and California as well, some reasonably and others, well, not-so-reasonably priced.

               Appetizers are also hit or miss. The surprise of the evening, a lovely roasted beet salad ($16), fares the strongest, the beets just firm enough and sweetened with drizzles of local organic honey, with tart whipped ricotta that balances the sweetness and toasted pine nuts that provide a crunchy textural contrast. While pepper-encrusted ahi tuna carpaccio ($22) is nicely seasoned with spicy aioli, the fish is so thinly sliced that the fish itself is no longer the main attraction on the plate. Fried calamari “Strega” style ($16) is merely average, the squid rings’ exterior too heavily breaded although they go down easier with a spicy arrabiati dipping sauce. The kitchen’s knife-wielding skills are called into question once again here, although this time out, the accompanying pepperoncini slices are sliced too large. The evening’s most disappointing course, however, was one of its most promising: prosciutto wrapped shrimp and pineapple ($22) translates to three so-called jumbo shrimp served atop massive, succulent slices of pineapple (perhaps it should be re-named Massive Pineapple with Wee Little Shrimp?). While the fruit itself is dynamite, it overwhelms the plate. The shrimp themselves are a tad overcooked, and the prosciutto in which they’re embedded - which does have a tendency to naturally be salty - is excessively so and renders the fish virtually inedible. What a shame.

               Entrees fortunately fare better, most notably pappardelle Emiliana ($29), a hearty portion of nicely cooked pasta with a comforting Bolognese sauce laced with diced filet mignon. Even more comforting on a September evening heading into fall is the Zuppa di mare ($50), a heaping bowl chock full of fresh seafood including mussels, calamari, shrimp, and lobster, served in a spicy, ciappino-like broth. Braised short ribs ($39) are roasted all day, resulting in very tender meat, which is slightly underseasoned/undersalted. The dish could also benefit from a different, lighter starch as creamy fettucini with English peas is quite heavy and seems out of place with the meat.

               Traditional Italian desserts are also a mixed bag. While the cannoli ($6) is simply presented, its crispy shell exterior and just-sweet-enough ricotta interior are near perfection and serve as gentle reminders that the North End and all of its beloved pastries are just around the corner. On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, the tiramisu is presented as a large slice of cake in lieu of the standard espresso-soaked ladyfingers, including a superfluous vanilla frosting. Any hint of marscapone and cocoa flavors are wiped away with an excessive amount of rum that’s been baked in. It’s the anti pick-me-up.

               Service is polished, as one would expect given Varano’s emphasis on hospitality and making one feel as if they are part of Varano’s own family. Varano himself even appears on the menu, pictured with other staff members in what appears to be an opening bash event at the restaurant. Brash, you bet, but the restaurant continues to attract throngs of customers, in spite of cuisine that often attempts to goes big but seldom delivers on that promise.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Troquet a Cozy, yet Sophisticated Dining Delight

A view of a what was once a peasant cemetery lining the outskirts of Boston
Common doesn't necessarily scream out 'romantic dining experience.' Across from this morose setting, however, lies the illustrious Troquet, a Theater District treasure of a restaurant now 14 years young in its existence that delivers the liveliest of dining experiences. Somehow lurking inexplicably in the shadows of more publicly talked about French-inspired establishments such as L'Espalier, 5-time James Beard award semi-finalist and GM/Owner Chris Campbell's bistro has consistently delivered modern, French-New American cuisine in a polished, yet casual setting (its name is apt, as Troquet is French slang for cozy bistro). You may have also heard about Troquet's nationally recognized wine program, which Campbell developed an affinity for when he first frequented France's Burgundy region in the mid-eighties while crafting his hospitality skills. And like a fine wine, Troquet has aged well. Executive Chef Scott Hebert (who had worked with the likes of acclaimed chefs including David Burke in New York City) joined Campbell back in 2001 during the restaurant's opening, and in Troquet's small, yet bustling kitchen he has loyally remained, as have some quirky, pleasant, polished, attentive, and dare I say fun waitstaff. In fact, Troquet may offer the most enjoyable, yet least talked about dining experience in all of Boston.

And before I get back to the restaurant's sterling wine selection, what better way to begin one's meal with butter - lots of it, by way of an enormous bucket of Normandy's finest? The butter is creamy, yet not too heavy, and melts inside of a piping hot roll whose crispy exterior belies a wonderfully fluffy interior. Just be careful not to have too many of these, unless, of course, one intends on taking the time to enjoy the entire meal over several hours and pours of wine.

And there are several pours to be savored, more than forty by the glass, conveniently made available by either 2 oz (half glass) or 4 oz (full) options. The extensive wine selection leans heavily on varietals from France and Italy, rounded out by several from Napa, Germany, Australia, and Spain. Even more attractive is Campbell's willingness to make difficult to find wines more accessible and affordable to the masses, as evidenced by the fact that all bottles are sold at only $10 above retail. Troquet prides itself on pairing all courses with select wines, and all glassware is served with oval paper discs at their base baring the restaurant's name along with the ID number of the wine you've ordered. And similar to Kai Gagnon's intriguing wine program at Somerville's terrific Bergamot, all wines are served at exactly the temperature they require for maximum sipping pleasure (45 degrees for whites, 58 degrees for reds).

That German Kabinett Riseling ($7.25 for 2 oz, $14.50 for 4 oz) is a fruit forward, light, yet not overpoweringly sweet white wine that pairs beautifully with highly recommended sushi specials that include a tuna terradito served sashimi grade-style topped with avocado and tomato along with a soft shell crab tempura with avocado and edible flowers. They're both lovely to look at, even lovelier to eat.

A subtle Spanish tempranillo from Bodegas Volver La Mancha Single Vineyard ($7.25 2 oz, $14.50 4 oz) compliments the roasted suckling pig ($39), Troquet's signature dish. "It's as if you read my mind," our server jokes upon requesting the wine. The tender meat is cooked to perfection, meticulously executed and uniquely presented as a trio of loin, rillettes, and ribs, with crackling skin atop the loin. Chipotle glaze accentuates the pig's smokey flavors. It's literally a feast for a king, and fondly brings me back to my college year abroad in Spain when sampling my first suckling pig under the aqueduct of Segovia. The dish is accompanied by long, pretty glazed baby carrots along with a  small skillet of corn spoon bread infused with spicy pepper succotash that is innovative, fun, and quite delicious. Slow roasted Vermont lamb ($38) also impresses in both taste and complexity, the tender meat rubbed in spicy mustard (in lieu Lebanese yogurt due to my wife's dairy restriction) and served with eggplant and faro with heirloom squash.

For dessert, the Valrohna chocolate soufflé ($13) is Trouquet's piece de resistence. Pastry Chef Sarah Woodfine's decadent concoction is moist gooey goodness, exacerbated by pouring in grand Marnier anglaise and blending with a small dollop of espresso gelato. Those with dairy allergies need not fear: the chocolate itself is non-dairy, while the kitchen will swap out both the Grand Marnier with more of that incredible chocolate melted into a sauce as well as the gelato with one of their interesting sorbet selections (in this instance, coconut, which my wife attested nearly rivaled Mistral's heralded chocolate sorbet).

Troquet's first floor hosts a small bar and Le Patissier, the restaurant's much ballyhooed dessert lounge. You can either walk up a slight of stairs - or even take an elevator - to the second floor where the real action takes place in Hebert's small, yet bustling kitchen that leads to the main dining room lined with dark red walls and mirrors.

You're likely coming to Troquet prior to attending a Broadway show in Boston's Theater District. The real show, however, resides in the restaurant itself. From its sterling waitstaff to its impeccable food and wine options, Troquet certainly won't come cheap, but is definitely worth the price of admission.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ostra Delivers An Opulent Dining Experience

Can fine dining and seafood coexist in Boston? That's a phenomenon about as rare as a Tom Brady cellphone sighting nowadays. Sure, there's beloved Island Creek Oyster House in Kenmore Square, its more scaled-back sister restaurant, Row 34 on the Waterfront, and even Chef Daniel Bruce's well-respected, longstanding Meritage at the Boston Harbor Hotel. But from the likes of chef/owner Jamie Mammano, who oversees other luxurious restaurants including the ageless South End eatery, Mistral and the uber-stylish Backbay Italian staple, Sorellina, what better way to celebrate contemporary Mediterranean seafood than in the space once occupied by popular Middle Eastern themed Avila, located at the outskirts of both Chinatown and the Theater District? Ostra is, after all, a truly an intoxicating combination of East meets West culinary styles.

And like its Columbus Hospitality Group counterparts, Ostra swings big across the board, starting with its sophisticated ambience. You know you're in for a serious dining experience from the moment you arrive -a  piano lounge and expansive bar with Beetlejuice-themed furniture to the left (garrulous, Hollywood blonde hostess straight ahead), and a towering dining room to your right (complete with catherdral ceilings and high noise levels unless seated near a window), complete with immense black and white photographs depicting land and sea. There's also an open kitchen in which a team of chefs can be viewed meticulously preparing one's meal, an ice-filled case of whole fish, and pendants resembling jellyfish. While rather vapid white walls and tablecloths are a bit dour, expensive white fine china plates ($125 apiece) featuring wave-like patterns are meticulously presented while mysteriously quickly whisked away from our table, as if the servers are teasing us. Who said luxury should be a fleeting moment?

An ultra-fresh, housemade bread basket cooked with potatoes and vidalia onions is a harbinger of good things to come from Executive Chef Mitchell Randall's intriguing menu.There are several appealing items from which to choose on Ostra's raw menu. We bypass a jalapeno-seasoned himachi for an aesthetically pleasing sea bass tartare ($22), an artfully presented fish that is both light and elegant, topped with a couple of slices velvety, black truffle. Vertical, wafer-thin fennel crostini are served on the side, a wonderful crispy compliment to the moist fish.

A first course of grilled Spanish octopus ($24) comes in several small round, chewy bites, and yet, to our amazement, the first order is woefully overcooked, rendering the meat charred and flavorless. It is swiftly removed from our bill with the most sincere apologies and check-ins from Ostra's general manager. Thankfully, the second attempt is flawless, the octopus's rubbery texture accentuated by a hint of lemon, a pool of olive oil, paprika, and raw sweet Vidalia onions as a bold counterpoint in flavor.

Paella "Valencia Style" ($48) brings me back to my college studies abroad in Spain, a mammoth silver platter theatrically opened by our server to reveal short-grain Spanish rice laced with flavorful saffron with just enough crunch along with an abundance of lobster (which, to me, tasted a tad too fishy), jumbo shrimp, mussels, clams, more octopus, squid, nicely spiced chorizo, and even a chicken drumette.

What better way to celebrate a fine dining experience near the Theatre District than to enjoy a theatrical dessert from budding executive pastry chef Jennifer Luna? While a unique sorbet trio ($10) consisting of coconut-yuzu, mango-pineapple and fresh berry didn't recreate the flawlessly executed, ice cream-esque chocolate sorbet that is universally beloved at Mistral, it was a refreshingly smooth finale nonetheless. But the real showstopper of the evening was Luna's visually stunning "snow egg" ($11) that our server insisted we must try. The 'egg' itself was in actuality a lemon curd mousse-filled meringue appearing to float atop plump raspberries, basil syrup, and a yarn of spun sugar resembling a crown. While the sugar was a bit tough to navigate one's spoon through, its flavor, albeit a bit overpowering, nicely cut into the tanginess of the lemon curd. I don't think I've tasted such an innovatively light, delightful dessert like this in ages.

Service is polished yet inviting, our waitress eager to steer us in the right direction with her recommendations (she seems to be a veteran stolen away from Mistral's staff). Cocktails can be steep price-wise ($15-21), including an odd-sounding, yet aptly prepared oyster martini. Ostra's wine selection is extensive and hails from regions including France, Italy, Spain, Napa, and even some unique selections from Greece and Germany/Central Europe. Wines by the glass range from $12-$25, and one can find moderate priced bottles to the exorbitant (a $ 2300 Shafer Hillside Select Magnum cabernet from Napa).

Tack on $21 for valet, and you have yourself one very expensive, yet highly rewarding dining experience. Ostra is defined as a tropical marine bivalve that is a major source of pearls. And that's what one should expect when dining at this fine dining establishment - it's legitimately one of Boston's crown jewels for sophisticated, well-executed seafood.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Erbaluce Represents a Sour Grape Dining Experience

Erbaluce was hailed by local food critics several years ago as one of Boston's top Italian restaurants, primarily for its daring cuisine under chef Charles Draghi and its cozy, hospitalable setting and waitstaff. The restaurant, named after a Piedmont grape, continues to push the envelope for more adventurous diners with dishes including wild boar and rabbit, but sadly, this spot tucked away in Boston's Bay Village (just a stone's throw away from more luxurious, spotlight-stealing establishments such as seafood staple Ostra and the recently opened Vegas-themed steakhouse STRIP by Strega) appears to have lost its luster.

Draghi himself can be seen preparing meals along with his band of merry chefs in the kitchen that adorns the back of the dining room. The waitstaff is unfortunately hit or miss. The individual who refills out breadbasket (wonderfully fresh, slightly crispy concoctions including sourdough mixed cinnamon) is vivacious, witty and funny, while our main server, although very knowledgeable of the menu, is reserved and at time seemingly a bit pretentious (it doesn't help that he abruptly takes an awful, overly icy sorbet away from our table at a dining companion's request, only to silently take the bill a few minutes later, sans apology, to remove the expense from the bill). It's a weird dynamic, for sure - is the restaurant's ambience supposed to be fun, serious, or a blend of both?

Herbs and spices seem to be Drahgi's sweet spot, and he accentuates these in a lovely, light rendering of scallops crudo, nicely cut dollops of fish tossed with basil.

It's Draghi's entrees, however, where these herbs tend to get lost. In lieu of the wild boar, which our server indicated possessed more of a gamey, chewy consistency to it, he recommended as his favorite dish rabbit with rhubarb and strawberries. While I found the meat - which came in a very generous portion consisting of loin and leg - very nicely cooked and surprisingly tender, there was very little of the rhubarb's sweet-tart flavor in the dish, but rather, a slightly off-putting gamey tone that dominated the dish. It made me regret passing on the equally intriguing parpadelle with boar ragu. A more conservative steak dish, while cooked appropriately, was surprisingly lacking the bold seasoning and herbs that the meat demanded and on which Draghi's kitchen prides itself.

Desserts were where Erbaluce faltered. The aforementioned sorbet was prepared with egg whites and supposed to lead to a creamy texture, and not the icy version that fell apart. My chocolate cremeaux dish, while tasty, was woefully undercooked, with flecks of sugar apparent within every bite. Complimentary housemade truffles served after dessert, while delightful, were oddly timed, and I had wishes I had known about these prior to ordering our sweet misfires.

The restaurant boasts an appealing, extensive, and often well-priced variety of northern Italian wines by the glass and bottle to pair with Draghi's experimental cuisine.

All in all, Erbaluce, for all of its inventiveness, feels merely average in Boston's present-day culinary scene. This 'grape' unfortunately left a more sour aftertaste in this reviewer's mouth.