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Jan 5, 2007 01:36 AM

Pulcinella in Cambridge... and Aspasia?

I used to go to Trattoria Pulcinella in West Cambridge a fair amount, 7-8 years ago, and loved it. But at the end of that time, I had a few bad meals there (a dish that was supposed to be in a gorgonzola sauce came instead with a melted slice of smoked gouda on it??).

Now I'm living back in the neighborhood, and curious about how it is lately. Any recent experiences to relate? Also-- what kind of meals have you had at Aspasia on Walden Street-- it looks like it could/should be the perfect little hidden neighborhood gem...

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  1. I was there a couple of months back and had an excellent meal. I was actually rather surprised at the quality, in fact. I think it was twentyoystahs' positive report that sent me in.

    1 Reply
    1. re: tatamagouche


      Yep, I had a delicious meal there a few months back and was compelled to post about it. Kicked this place right up to the top of my Italian restaurant list. Just really good quality, simple Italian served in a cozy, relaxed environment. The Perciacelli Amatriciana is one of the best renditions I've ever had. Certainly the best in Boston. I'd love to get back there soon.

    2. I had the pleasure of sharing that wonderful food at Pulcinella...As an Italian food novice, it was a treat to have a taste of "real" Italian food (I especially loved the succulent grilled shrimp and octopus). If you search, you'll find more comments on that meal.

      1. It seems that Aspasia is about to change hands.

        1 Reply
        1. re: salty

          I thought that occurred last fall. Is there another change?

        2. I had two excellent meals there last year. Like the OP, I went to Pulcinella fairly often when they first opened (mid-90s) but stopped due to the increase in prices and decrease in food quality and service. However, due to a pasta emergency, we went there in April and had a fabulous meal.

          A sudden craving for great northern Italian food (I was reading all these books about Italy and the food descriptions were killing me) brought me back to Pulcinella in June. Again, a wonderful meal with gracious service.

          Their appetizers are especially strong, including the sauteed octopus and the eggplant pie. The eggplant pie looked like a piece of lasagna. Paper thin pieces sliced eggplant, delicately layered with onions, tomato, mozzarella, basil and parmigiano. For entrees, I am partial to the pastas with shellfish, specifically, the linguini with white clams. They do a great job here, with perfectly cooked shellfish and sauce that actually adheres to the pasta itself.

          While I haven't been back since the summer, it's more because I haven't been eating as much Italian outside of my own kitchen. It's also a place I take for granted because it is so close to my house. But, it is my go-to spot (and minimal effort spot) for excellent italian fare.

          1. Thanks for all the positives... we're going to try Pulcinella again tonight in a group of five. I'll post with the results.

            1 Reply
            1. re: newhound

              So, it was very good but still, a bit short of expectations for the price. For apps, a couple of simple house salads were very good-- room temperature good greens and high quality EVOO and balsamic. The beef carpaccio was reported to be excellent by my friend who orders it often across the city; mozzarella and tomato salad was as good as it could be this time of year, with ripe Romas and again, excellent oil and the right amount of fresh basil. My poached pear with gorgonzola, walnuts and prosciutto was great-- hard to go wrong with that combo,and everything was in proportion so the flavors meshed well.

              Mains included a couple of special braised lamb shanks over porcini risotto with a sort of savory ratatouille side that was a perfect winter night veggie (despite the 60+ temps outside); the shank was only about 5-6 bites of lamb but rich in flavor and perfect in texture. A oxtail ragu over gnocchi was quite good, although there was barely enough ragu to coat the gnocchi. Perhaps this is the way it is done properly but "oxtail" and "ragu" together suggested a stronger-flavored dish. Two seafood dishes rounded out the table; a mix of sauteed shellfish, all good, and a paper-wrapped cone of fried shrimp, scallops, and calamari with marinara on the side. Though quite casual (is there a Coney Island in Italy?) it was superb; scallops cut into the right size chunks so they cooked well next to the thinner shrimp and squid, and almost a Chinese-style batter--very thin and well salted so the seafood just had a light crisp coating.

              With a sleeping baby, we didn't risk the time for dessert...overall the meal was very good, though service was a bit blase (other waiters I heard being more descriptive, more good-humored and engaged with diners). Very good ingredients, seasoning, and cooking.