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NON-red sauce italian

w
wisconsingal Aug 16, 2006 01:38 PM

Totally inspired by Heat, the new Bill Buford book about Mario Batali, and now craving Babbo, I'm looking for a rustic Italian place that, unlike Batali's, is not wildly expensive. If someone knows where I can get some of that delicious squash or pumpkin ravioli saturated in sage butter, that would also be a plus!

  1. SeaSide Tomato Aug 21, 2006 03:22 PM

    If you're into the whole pumpkin/butternut squash ravioli/tortellini thing (which I very much am!), the best I've ever had was at 224 Boston. Beautiful, giant (so lots of pumpkin!) tortelloni, with Ibelieve pancetta, gorgonzola and lots of other goodies. Great contrast between the sweet and savory. I haven't been ther in nearly a year; I hope the dish is still on their menu when fall rolls around-perfect for a brisk evening.

    1. MC Slim JB Aug 17, 2006 02:52 PM

      I was quite disappointed by my one experience at Babbo -- horrible service, really disappointing food, absurd prices -- but I think I know what you're getting at.

      There are plenty of worthy Italians locally that aren't about the marinara and try to be creative. Some highlights have already been hit here: Sage, Prezza, Grotto, Marco. I'd add a few, covering a spectrum of fanciness and cost, most but not all good values.

      The Tuscan Grill in Waltham (which does my favorite version of that pumpkin ravioli in sage butter dish), Bricco (now too pricey), Caffe Umbra (half the menu is Italian), Domani (creative but inconsistent in execution), Il Capriccio in Waltham (fancy-ish, with a stunning, unique wine list), La Morra (creative menu includes Venetian-style cicchette, but service is poor), Sorrelina (chic and hot and overpriced), Via Matta (sophisticated, pricey, Roman-feeling, LOUD).

      Northern-leaning places that are more authentic than creative: Trattoria Toscana (superb cooking and value in a real neighborhood place), Mamma Maria (very traditional, high-end Northern Italian). Honorable mention to Zafferano in Eastie, which despite a focus on Campania ranges northward occasionally; it's all good.

      1. w
        wisconsingal Aug 16, 2006 09:22 PM

        great recs, hounds! I checked these menus and I'm going to start knocking them off my lists of places to try. Having just moved, I get frazzled walking around the North End with all of its choices and it's nice to have a few solid creative places in tow. Nothing burns me like eating boring Italian-- I got so overwhelmed looking for a lunch spot on Hanover with something interesting the other day that I decided instead to hightail it to Trani for some brownies injected with soft serve.

        1. h
          hawkeye Aug 16, 2006 08:50 PM

          Glad you are inspired by the book wisconsingal - me too!

          Hands down best brown butter stuffed pasta I have had in ages was at Mare in the North End - butternut squash filled caramelle.

          To my knowledge, no spot in Boston has been able to master "non-red sauce Italian" from start to finish. While they may hit one dish head on, seems they fall apart around the rest...

          1. p
            peelmeagrape Aug 16, 2006 02:52 PM

            I had dinner at Marco about two weeks ago and had a very mixed reaction. The space is cute - being tucked away in a small room overlooking the bustle Hanover St. is a nice feeling, and the exposed brick and herringbone-patterned wood pannelling on the walls gives an earthy but not quite rustic feel to the space. The open kitchen makes the place smell amazing when you get to the top of the stairs. (Total digression: I also think the graphic design of their logo/books of matches is adorable - heraldry-meets-playing cards.) The food, however, was hit-or-miss. I appreciate the sentiment and there's skill with timing and temperature in the kitchen, but ultimately, the flavors and portions were overwhelming. We had the grilled vegetables and the fried cod cheeks to start. The veggies (and the tender foccaccia with caponata in the bread basket) were our favorite part of the meal. They tasted farm fresh, had really picked up some char from the grill, and were accompanied by a nice onion marmalade. The cod cheeks themselves were delicate puffs in a light batter, but were too salty and accompanied by way too many sliced chillis, which smothered the flavor of the fish. The portions were as huge as any I've seen. We arrived starving from a day of working out and swimming and were *stuffed* by the time we got through the appetizers (and we ordered the "small" size of each!) The quantities were so gigantic that they arrived we actually thought they'd mistakenly brought us the large - and we wanted to cancel our order for mains, but felt the kitchen might have already begun to prepare them. For entrees we had the mixed grill and the pork chop with asparagus and pan-fried potatoes. We tasted a bite of two of each and had them wrapped to bring home, which I usually wouldn't do but it just seemed like a colossal waste of food. The steak was fine, the sausages (housemade pork and chicken) too garlicky. The pork chop was juicy but way too salty and spicy. At home ended up cutting off the edges and serving it with a maple-based sauce at home to tone it down. Service was a bit 'splain-y - I don't really need an unsolicited discourse about what's in a basic caponata, thank you - but maybe that's just their version of showing enthusiasm and pride in their food. Anyway, both servers were clearly making an effort to be friendly and attentive.

            All this to say that no, I wouldn't steer someone towards Marco in general, and definitely not as a Babbo alternative. Prezza, Sage and perhaps Grotto (though it seems like a heavier, richer style of creative Italian) seem more in keeping with Babbo's style of cuisine. It's been a long time since I visited Via Matta, but they might also be a place to consider. I also wonder how Caffe Umbra would stack up in this context, delicious creative Italian, though they aren't big on pasta.

            1. p
              Posenose Aug 16, 2006 02:04 PM

              If you are looking for Mario Batali type food you should check out Marco in the North End. Marc Orfaly modeled it after Lupa, one of Batali's restaurants in NYC. I haven't been to Marco in about a year, so I can't comment on how it is now, but I was super impressed when I went there last fall.

              http://www.marcoboston.com/menumain.html

              1 Reply
              1. re: Posenose
                9
                9lives Aug 16, 2006 02:08 PM

                I'm also a fan of Marco. Sage, Grotto and Prezza are also very food. Marco is probably a little pricier than grotto..a little less than sage or Prezza.

              2. Joanie Aug 16, 2006 01:47 PM

                Prezza's sweet corn raviolini w/ shrimp and pancetta might fit the season better than squash ravioli. $16/28 I think so not a bargain but delicious.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Joanie
                  Rubee Aug 16, 2006 09:50 PM

                  Agree with Joanie about the corn raviolini (my favorite in the summer tho my husband prefers the pea with mascarpone). The pasta dishes are seasonal, so in the fall be sure to try the chestnut raviolini with duck.

                  I think Giacomo's does a nice version of the pumpkin/squash tortelloni with sage, tho haven't been there in years - too crowded for me.

                  And Mare does a delicious Butternut Squash "Caramelle" - pasta shaped like a cylinder with twisted ends with a creamy squash filling, with brown butter and sage (just tried this Monday night, actually - delicious).

                2. b
                  Bostonbob3 Aug 16, 2006 01:44 PM

                  Prezza has that exact dish (at least a lot of the time they do). And while it's not cheap, it's certainly less expensive than Babbo.

                  1. Dax Aug 16, 2006 01:43 PM

                    Grotto and Sage immediately come to mind. The whole squash/pumpkin ravioli in browned (I realize you said sage) butter phenomenom seems to be dissipating after the last two years. However, when I think creative non-red rauce, I think of these two places in Boston. Sage is the more expensive of the two. Grotto's prix fixe is a steal. Don't try and go to either during restaurant week (if offered).

                    http://www.grottorestaurant.com/
                    http://www.sageboston.com/

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Dax
                      Dax Aug 16, 2006 03:10 PM

                      Just to be clear, I was replying more to the request for "non red sauce" and thinking about interestingly-stuffed ravioli preparations as compared with Batali-like cuisine. I have no idea if those two are Batali-like.

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