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Apr 28, 2007 09:54 AM

Rocca last night

Broke my usual rule of giving new restaurants a few weeks/months to get their groove going, and checked out Rocca last night with two friends. Arrived early for our reservation and had a glass of wine at the little bar upstairs. The bar area downstairs was HOPPING but our little space was nice and calm.

Two of us asked for sauvignon blanc which they don't have so the bartender made a great recommendation which we really enjoyed. And at $6.50 a glass what a value! (Side note: the wine list is very extensive and reasonable. Many bottles in the $30 range which is a rarity in Boston these days).

The space is enormous and beautiful. The bar is in the cavernous front area with two-story glass walls so it was very loud, but the noise did not follow us to our table.

The menu has several sections: tastes, appetizers, pastas, and entrees. Our waiter explained them thus: tastes are just a "bite," apps are as you would expect, pastas are the same size as an appetizer portion and entrees, are, well, entrees. He recommended we go with apps, pasta, entrees, but we thought that sounded like too much food (he's a young man who clearly has a very healthy appetite!) so we went with tastes, apps, and pastas.

We started with a "taste" each: I had the "twice cooked artichokes" with aoli. I'd say that for me it was about 5 bites...for a larger person it might have been 3. But it was delicious. One DC had a prociutto and fontina pizzette which was much larger and very delicious. Third DC had the fish sticks with pesto sauce, also larger than my 'chokes. Fish was almost a tempura presentation. Very good although my friend said it might have been a tad on the too salty side.

Next course: two of us had "Appetizers" from that section and the third went for another taste - the meatball slider, not really a slider as I understand them but more of a mini meatball sub (one meatball). She enjoyed it. I had the prosciutto, mozzarella, and arugula "sandwich" - which actually has no bread but is more the arugula and proscuitto sandwiched between the mozz with a deliciously intense balsamic drizzle on the plate. Other DC had the shrimp scampi appetizer - three good-sized shrimp with a spicy salad accompaniment (I didn't taste but my friend enjoyed it).

Last course - we all went for items from the pasta section. Linguini with rock shrimp - flavorful and fresh. Gnocchi with meat sauce was the winner of the three, in my book - perfectly cooked gnocchi and the sauce, so good! Tomato based with big bites of slow-braised beef that just melted in the mouth. We were joking that next time we go back we'd get that dish as our appetizer AND our entree! Third was the spring green panzotti with walnut sauce - not being a fan of walnuts I didn't try this but the panzotti looked delicious and my friend loved the sauce. This dish was noticeably smaller than either the linguini or the gnocchi.

The desserts that went by our table looked wonderful, but there just wasn't room.

Total, before tip and including a bottle of the same wine we had enjoyed at the bar was $119. I will absolutely go back, and try next time to leave room for dessert.

One other comment - there is definitely some inconsistency in portion sizes so be sure to ask your server for specifics on what you are considering if you are going for multiple courses.

The service was very friendly and attentive. Only minor blip was in the pasta dishes - two were mildly hot bordering on warm and only one was actually hot. Didn't affect our enjoyment at all, but it's worth noting.

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  1. Oh, and I do apologize but I just can't remember the what the specific wine was last night, I'm hoping my DC will chime in with the name!

    4 Replies
    1. re: heathermb

      I think the wine was a vermentino. Most wines by the glass were in the $6.50 to $7 range. Given how new this restaurant is, I was impressed with the lack of service blips. I agree that the portion sizes are inconsistent, especially the tastes section of the menu. Some are truly bites (the artichokes) while other seemed more appetizer size to me (the pizzette). I had the spring green panzotti which I really enjoyed as I do like a walnut sauce and the panzotti were choch full of lovely green herbs and vegetables. I wasn't a huge fan of the fish sticks. They were OK, but I wouldn't order them again.

      1. re: lissy

        FYI, the wine is poured in authentic wine tumblers. They had no intention to buy traditional wine glasses..eventually they bought a few stem wine glasses because people get snitty about it. There are a few restaurants in the North End that serve wine in tumblers, too.

        1. re: dliteful

          Using the North End as a yardstick for authenticity seems pretty dubious to me.

          I haven't spent time in Liguria, but I certainly never saw wine elsewhere in Italy served in awful, oversized, heavy glasses like Rocca's. Proper wine glasses, some shorter-stemmed or sturdier than others, and flat-bottomed tumblers like jelly jars are what I'm familiar with over there.

          Even if this type of glass is used somewhere in Italy, I remain convinced it's an awful choice by Rocca. I drink out of them, but they're annoying.

          1. re: dliteful

            I wouldn't call it being "snitty." I just want my white wine to stay chilled...holding it in a tumbler warms it too quickly for my tastes.

      2. I got a chance to check out Rocca, too. Obviously lots of service and kitchen kinks to work out: it's Week One, after all. They're pouring wine in water goblets, though they won't admit that they're eventually going to have real wine glasses, which is kind of funny. The servers don't yet know the menu: is that really trennette or is it trenette? Beats them: they don't know the difference, let alone what is being served. Plenty of enthusiasm all around -- if these people aren't genuinely excited to be working here, they are sure faking it well. Four giddy hostesses greeting you at the door, all breathlessly extolling some little virtue of the place, pretty entertaining. Mme. Larson is prowling the dining room the entire night, troubleshooting and expediting, not working the room: impressive, and a good idea at this stage.

        Booths have fairly narrow-width tables, so you're pretty close to your companions across the table, which I like. Matte stone (slate?) slabs, arty placemats instead of tablecloths -- I wonder how often those things will get washed.

        Great EVOO served with some flattish focaccia to start. Crispy veal medallions app is very nice, pounded very thin, maybe a bit dry, and small for $12. The salumi/cheese plate has superb salami, decent cotto, a pecorino as smokey as a single-malt from the Inner Hebrides, some overcooked asparagus, exactly one pickled ramp (wicked, with a great vinegar bite, but reddish like a beet green, odd), some unpleasant hard-toasted bread, and an amazingly fresh-tasting and green fava/garlic dip.

        "Hot and sweet scampi" is actually shrimp with heads and tails on, very crunchy but plain: neither hot nor sweet, but worth it for the texture of expert batter-frying. The underlying fennel salad is lovely: I didn't know that fresh marjoram looks like dill. As with many dishes tonight, some listed ingredients are nowhere in evidence: I can't find any of the advertised hot peppers or mint.

        Rigatoni in a pot is bad: quite over-baked: some pasta dried out and hard. I quite like the simple tomato sauce, but can't detect any of the alleged veal. Trofie is one dish I'm quite excited to try here, and it does not disappoint, served with the traditional pesto, and showing a lot of love and labor in its handmade texture. A small plate of two smallish filleted sardines on a pile of little radish slices is quite nice, though not expertly boned. Alleged mint is absent.

        Dessert of smashed almond bark is a hit: like good almond-studded baked meringue with decent chocolate dipping sauce, really all about the texture. The walnut fig torta features excellent vanilla gelatto, a dense shortbread-dry crust, and a deep-flavored dried-fig filling that reminds me of a homemade mince pie.

        Wines are surprisingly decently-priced, a fair number in the $35-50 range, and show a lot of range, notably around Italy; looks like some weeknight-friendly carafes are available, too. By daylight, the space didn't impress me much; it's much more attractive in dim nighttime lighting, especially when filled by a bunch of very multi-culti, urban-looking patrons: no mistaking this crowd for Sibling Rivalry's or Stella's on a weekend night.

        As I said, there are clearly a lot of kinks to work out: it's a huge space and a pretty extensive menu, quite an ambitious undertaking. Friends of mine who went separately had much worse luck out of the kitchen, like three pastas that all arrived with the same sauce, one a gnocchi which seemed to have missed being cooked at all, blecch. They'd hoped to catch the Sox on the bar TV (as promised by the host), but Rocca hasn't payed for NESN yet, just basic cable. I didn't have a chance to gauge the bartending (we found a nice Tuscan red for under $50), and the Phantom Waver was nowhere in evidence.

        I've alluded to outdoor dining on the roof here: I was informed that there's no such seating forthcoming, and that the soon-to-open patio will be at ground level, in the courtyard outside the entrance (near the giant industrial iron wheel.)

        A pretty promising, maybe very lucky, first impression.

        8 Replies
        1. re: MC Slim JB

          It's funny what you say about the wine in water goblets, because someone there gave me the impression that some thought went into those "wine glasses". I personally didn't like them for wine, especially white, since I don't want my hands warming up my wine. I'll be happy if they get some wine glasses with stems.

          1. re: lissy

            A thick, heavy water goblet is ridiculous as a wine glass: big for a red, huge for a white. I had to keep putting the brakes on my server, who would have poured 10 oz of red into my glass if I hadn't stopped him. I have to believe this is a temporary thing. If not, it's a hideous choice. I have no problem with rustic wine glasses: I've drunk plenty of wine from inelegant little tumblers in modest enotecas in Italy. They don't have to use $40-a-stem Riedel, but I hope Rocca comes up with something a little more appropriate for wine.

          2. re: MC Slim JB

            Given the claims of a Ligurian angle to the food, trenette is probably the pasta in question. With pesto, green beans and boiled potato seems to be a traditional combination.

            1. re: limster

              You're right: trenette is a ribbon pasta, kind of fettucine-like. Two-n's trennette is like ziti or ziti rigati (with lines), but triangular in cross-section. Our server had no idea, and did not succeed in finding out, despite my asking him twice. He seemed kind of at sea. To be expected in Week One.

            2. re: MC Slim JB

              Marjoram definitely does not look like Dill.
              First photo is Marjoram, second is Dill.

              1. re: Gio

                That was a joke (apparently a not very funny one). I asked the server which bits were the marjoram, and she pointed to the fringe-y stuff, which was clearly part of the fennel, (which looks a lot like dill.) As I said, a lot of listed ingredients went MIA on that night, which was back in April, shortly after they opened.

                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  OOPS!! LOL....I'm much too gullible. Given the negatives which were mentioned in other posts, I really thought you meant it. Silly me.

                  1. re: Gio

                    I know it's a lame joke when I have to explain it. I don't like to play "stump the server", especially early in a restaurant's shakedown cruise, but in fact I was curious where the advertised herbs were. There were a bunch of questions that night that the staff had no clue about. I think service has gotten better, but it's still not one of Rocca's strong points.

            3. Taste is just that on the two items we tried -- French Fries with pesto and Fish Sticks with salsa. Could not believe how small the portions were. Would understand if the quality was noteworthy but it was not -- not sure if the fries were frozen or just not very good potatoes. They do make a good cocktail.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Fort Point

                Had an OK meal there last night.

                Sardines with radish and a mint chiffonnade were fresh-tasting, with a good, simple balance of flavors. I'd order again. (Radishes are really coming back as a garnish these days, huh? That's a good thing....)

                Antipasti platter was mostly good. A beautiful hard cheese (pecorino? I forget), with just the right farminess, tasty salami of some sort, and a fatty, salty ham... [OK, this is an awful job at describing. I don't remember, so I'll just power through...]. Thin grilled asparagus spears were charred and tasty, pickled ramp was fine. But the star was the fava bean-pesto puree---olive-oily, minty basil, and ultra-creamy thanks to the favas. Yum.

                The "roast leg of lamb" seemed more like lamb tenderloin, but it was beautifully prepared: deeply browned on the outside, with the interior a shade redder than the medium-rare I'd asked for----which turned out to be a blessing. Juicy, clean (a la tenderloin), and the perfect contrast to the exterior. Served in a gorgeous sloped dish with white-bean puree (just a touch), braised escarole, and more of those great favas. Honestly, it was one of the most subtly balanced dishes I've tried in a long time. When Tom Fosnot's on, he's on (I felt that way about Blu, too).

                I didn't mind the fat, bulky glasses as much as others (I controlled my wine pouring, somehow). What was more annoying to me was that the $50 red we ordered was served at a piping-warm room temperature. Which is starting to grate on my nerves more and more in my old, crotchety age.

                Service, aside from the old manager from Rialto, was embarrassing. You'd think they would give the high-school seniors they hire a taste of some of the items every now and then. Ours was totally helpless, on the food and the wine, and we were left to fend for ourselves. ("Um... well, we're sellin' a LOT of the whole fish.") Which we did, successfully. Waiter also emphasized multiple times that the tastes and apps and pastas wre TINY and that we would be idiots not to order lots of things. Hopefully, he'll get more nuanced as the restaurant lasts.

                At the gorgeous downstairs lounge area (wow!), service was friendly, though the bar staff spent more time chatting about "how much was your take last night?" and "this is my 32nd hour of working since Friday," etc., than selling the new restaurant. Caveat: I tend to become a regular at that sort of bar; they should just be careful. Not everyone wants to hear the front of house complain about tips and hours.

                I'd go back, definitely. Prices are great.

                1. re: wittlejosh

                  I was really looking forward to this addition to the neighborhood. I read all the hype about the resumes behind it, the space and the menu over the last 9+ months. I've been in 3 times since the opening, trying to like it each time, but it ain't happening. The place is doomed to fail. I get the same gut feeling about Rocca as I did about Meze' in Charlestown, over-built w/no long-term staying power. This is NOT destination dining. I know it's early and I know it will get better, but it's more fluff than substance. I give it 1 year.

                  #1- The food is VERY average.
                  #2- The experience is not going to consistently lure people to Harrison Ave. Again, this is not destination dining that will consistently draw the #'s they are going to need to be profitable.
                  #3- The bar configuration and lounge area are not very warm, inviting or comfortable. I don't like the design, the window treatments or the vibe in the lounge at all. The feel/shape/flow of the room is awkward and the TV positioning is terrible.
                  #4- The outdoor patio is surrounded by commercial buildings. Unless they have an agreement that all lights must be off at night, you will be looking up at flourescent lighting all around you.
                  #5- The bartenders are indifferent and disheveled with no personality.
                  #6- The staff is VERY green and I predict, transient.

                  Obviously they will improve what they can control, but I believe that Rocca is going to have a very difficult time trying to survive. I hope I'm wrong.

                  1. re: BostonBarGuy

                    I have been to Rocca several times now and found it excellent.

                    I found the food to be an accurate interpretation of Liguria. Often people are turned off by simply prepared foods, but I enjoy dishes of four ingredients that are honestly prepared and presented. It is true that a home cook can relatively easily prepare most of the dishes on the menu to a fairly high degree. Caveat emptor!

                    As for the being a destination restaurant, that is not an issue. It is a place that South Ender's want. It is lively with a somewhat clubby but open atmosphere, great cocktails, approachable wines and prices, and small plates.

                    The bar has large windows that are perfect as the summer sun warms the adjacent buildings bathing the patio and bar at twilight.

                    The buildings surrounding the patio are a mix of commercial and residential. Also, the recent planting will mature to create a nice little area.

                    I am indifferent about the bartenders. They asked what I wanted. I told them. They brought it to me. However, the hosts and hostesses were amazingly upbeat every time we have gone. It really sets a nice tone.

                    Our waiters and waitresses (3 different on 5 visits) were all capable, competent and managed to deliver acceptable to solid service despite being slammed every time we have gone.

                    The food is destination worthy if you live in the South End (oxymoron?). The space is great for Summer, but I worry about the winter. Service, in my estimation, is fine. The food is honest. Don't go there to watch the game. In fact, why do they even have a tv?!?

              2. We also went to Rocca last week, and I promised a report that I have not delievered yet, so here goes.

                First, the space is HUGE. Much bigger than I was expecting. I have to say I did not care for the atmsophere all that much, but maybe it was just so different than what I was expecting (I was thinking a little northern italian place). Bad music, strange lighting. However, attractively decorated, and comfy seats.

                The service was atrocious. The waiter knew nothing, and we hardly saw him the entire night. We never got the bread that MC talked about, and I even said to my DC a couple of times: "I wonder if they bring a bread basket," and "some bread would be great for saoking up this leftover pesto!".

                Anyway, we started with a couple of tastes: the fish sticks and the olives. Olives were obviously good, but nothing really special. The fish sticks were a tad disappointing; a bit soggier than I would have liked, though moist and salty with a good pesto dipping sauce. The tastes are TINY: not more than a couple bites.

                We had the antipasto next, which we really really liked, although it was smaller than some other good antipasti I've had. Salami was terrific, as was the incredibly smokey peccorino...and the fava paste was divine! But, there weren't enough vessels for it...just two tiny pieces of toast! I ended up eating some of it straight with a fork.

                We had two pastas to finish: I had the strofie with pesto, and my fiance had the braised rabbit. I really liked them both, but the strofie was definitely the star. Great, fresh, homemade taste and a perfect rustic, chewy texture that is the hallmark of good strofie. And the pesto is as good a green basil pesto as I've had. The rabbit was quite good, but not quite as good as the rendition at Mamma Maria. Good meaty rabbit flavor and nice fresh, large circles of pasta (called corzetti if I recall). Pasta dishes are quite small...not really entree sized...but I didn't feel hungry when I was done. Just not that stuffed feeling that consuming an entire restaurant entree usually leaves one with.

                For wine, I stuck to the house wines by the glass. One glass of white with the fish and olives, and a glass of red with my pasta. Both glasses were $6, but the details escape me. Perfectly serviceable....even the silly water goblets didn't bother me, as I used to quite enjoy the little plastic cups that wine is served in in a lot of small focaccerias and roadside restaurants in Sicily (though I wish the house wines were $2 euro a liter at Rocca like they are in Sicily!)

                All in all, a good, promising meal, if not quite up to the ridiculous expectations I had. Again, the service was brutal, but I'll give that a chance. There are a lot of other dishes I'm looking forward to trying (disappointed to hear that the rigatoni was bad! It sounded so Sunday dinner at nanna's).

                1. Went last week. I was prepared to be underwhelmed, but it was pleasant. I won't do an extensive post about everything I had to eat, but I'll say that I thought it was pretty good for a restaurant in this price class. Food is prepared correctly and consistently (the pesto and the pizzette were particularly tasty). It wasn't really authentically Ligurian IMO, but good American middle-upper-class restaurant food. The space upstairs is kind of boring, but the downstairs bar is pretty spectacular with those giant windows.

                  I disagree strongly with the other poster who predicts a quick demise for this place. It's packed every night now, and once the patio opens up it will be even busier. Those who are pointing out the patio's limitations should bear in mind that there are very few other places in the South End with more appealing patios. Red Fez patio fronts an adjoining ugly building, B&G patio is subterranean and dark, Stella outdoor dining is in a narrow space right on a busy street, etc. South Enders will flock to this place; that alone will be enough to sustain it, regardless of whether it is seen as a "destination" restaurant from those outside the city.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: B. Savarin

                    I guess I should qualify what I meant by destination dining. I don't believe that the food, the service, the vibe and the physical setting, including the patio, are going to provide enough of an allure for people within walking distance OR outside of the city to say, "Let's go to the outer edge of the South End to Rocca." It's out of the way and still in a bit of an "edgy" location, a few blocks from the Pine Street Inn. The Red Fez is a dump but still has the perception that there's more going on around it, better street lighting and now Oishi on one end and Union, Sage, Stella, Toro the other way. Stella and B &G have established themselves and are "on the circuit" in terms of where people think of when they go out and go to 2 or 3 places and settle into one that has the best crowd, feel and established menu. They are all in the thick of things in the South End, with other options close by. My opinion and perception is that Rocca is going to be fighting an uphill battle after the honeymoon is over. The food and overall experience doesn't warrant heading to the "Last Frontier" on Harrison Ave., even with the free parking.

                    PS- Poor valet guy huh? That position won't last long. Imagine paying $8 plus tip to have someone else park your car 20 feet away?

                    1. re: BostonBarGuy

                      You have a valid point. Rocca is at its best when packed with people. It needs to be loud and lively. However, after summer, will people go? The things that make Rocca's atmosphere nice in the summer may make dreary in the winter.

                      The neighborhood is not that edgy to residents - even the Worcester and Union Square ones.

                      I also think that the B&G/Butchery customers will flock to Rocca . . . in the summer.

                      1. re: BostonBarGuy

                        I wonder if having Gaslight just down the block improves Rocca's prospects at all.