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Jul 16, 2007 07:52 AM

Alta Strada anyone?

"Here's a Michael Schlow idea that at least gives some alternative to Blue Ginger. Probably the former Todd English Figs at this location was more substantial and real Italianish fare. (I miss the duck and fig risotto) Having said that the too friendly waiters move it along without too many dropped balls and the small antipasti plates and pizzas were OK. The Giardinera salad had texture issues and all in all it is an absentee Chef by the numbers venture. They've definitely maxed out their potential for covers and they were humming even at 10pm but probably because dinners are desperate for something fresh in Wellesley. The lune pasta with truffle oil was delish and I like my panna cota with Rainier cherry compote was a nice note. The place needs some Italian in the kitchen and some soul on the plate."

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  1. After eating their very ordinary and not great food in house and having their really lousy take out food (even a salad is tasteless) we have given up on what used to be our standard go to location at least once a week (Figs). I like his other restaurants and, for the life of me, cannot figure out how he has a place that is serving such ordinary and less than ordinary food. As we left Stone Hearth Pizza last night, we were bemonaing the fact that they didn't find that location before AS.

    1 Reply
    1. re: emilief

      emilief -- I couldn't agree with you more. We were really excited to go, as we LOVE small plates ... everything we ordered seemed really old/tired. Yes, we dined "late" (9PM), and the kitchen staff were already closing down (why?), but it's not like the restaurant was empty on a Sunday night with no supplies left. This was a Thursday night! Come on, folks. Absolute rubbish. Everything was misrepresented and horribly boring. Seems to me that they're trying desperately to be Tomasso's in Southborough. "Fresh ricotta" everything, everywhere. We complained to our server that the whipped cream on our dessert had turned (it tasted awfully sour with a gritty texture): turns out to be ricotta. Hey! Can't seem to figure out what to do with the leftovers, I guess. While I agree with hoplover that the service was friendly (our server, while young, tried to be accommodating), the food and ambience hardly makes up for it. I couldn't hear my dinner partner over the noise level and I just couldn't wait to get out of there. What a disappointment.

    2. I had a great Tuna Pannini there and I ate every bite! I even told the waiter who was also the bartender that it was the sandwich of my life. One of the chef's came over to chat and I told him how much I loved this tuna sandwich and he said that it was what he took home for his snack every night after work so you know that it is great. My sister had the crab salad and loved it. Even though it is a trendy and fashionable place to eat, I found that the service was very warm, informative and friendly.

      1 Reply
      1. re: hoplover

        I had a very good panini there, too, with their pickled vegetables on the side, which were a great counterpoint. I'd go back for lunch any time. Dinner was a solid better-than-okay. Antipasti: roast asparagus, very good; more pickles, very good; bruschetta, eh. Entrees: soft-shelled crab was the semi hit of the evening, well seasoned, though it didn't work that the hot crab it was on a bed of something cold, and it's a bad sign that I don't even remember what the bed of cold stuff was. Otherwise it was very good. My companion had pork chop, which was decent, though cooked more than it needed to be. Dessert, a chocolate hazelnut torte, was just OK, light on the hazelnut, so dense as to be candy-bar-like, and not a great texture match with loose whipped cream. Service, again okay, but not ready for prime time. Got stuff to the table still hot, but on the intrusive side -- politely interrupting people to ask how they liked things -- but not horrible. If I'm going somewhere local, I'd prefer Maxwell’s, which is three minutes west on 135.

      2. Um, what?

        Are you quoting someone? If so, whom?

        5 Replies
          1. re: Alcachofa

            Sorry about the quotes. I lifted this from another spot and it added quotes and omitted a sentence.

            1. re: EATTV

              Wait, I still don't understand. You are or aren't quoting someone?

              1. re: tatamagouche

                EATTV copies his reviews from Yelp, so I think he's saying that he isn't quoting somebody, and that when he copies and pastes it adds quotes....

              2. re: EATTV

                Not quoting. I wrote it at another place and when I copied it the quotes were added by another program and I missed it. Again, sorry.

            2. I love it when people who have no idea about real Italian food make statements such as "real Italianish fare". If you knew anything about Italian food you would know that the the food at Alta Strada is more "Italianish" than Todd English's heavy, bacon-laden, over-sized dishes. Also if you want to talk about absentee chefs let's talk about most high-end restaurants in Boston, including Figs and Olives, where the chef owns more than one restaurant. Especially Todd English who owns restaurants in other states and internationally. Do you think Todd English was making your pizza out in Wellesley??? People think they want real Italian food, when what they really want is the American version, oversized, coated with cheese and sauce and enough of it so that they can take it home and feed their too large families. Some people should stick to Bertucci's......

              10 Replies
              1. re: JDog

                Wow: you managed to bust on Todd English, American taste in Italian food, doggie bags, and big families in one go! I mostly agree with you on this stuff (except the part where you seem to have an idea about ideal family size for other people), but I try not to get so worked up about it all in one post.

                Speaking of absentee chefs, I wonder how much time Schlow will be spending in his various Boston and Wellesley restaurants now that he's got a casino venture going himself.

                1. re: JDog

                  All these guys are not in their restaurants. They realize that it doesn't matter for what they're looking for (da bucks folks). But you know that going in. If a chef has more than one place its impossible to expect him/her at either one. You can expect a menu with their influence, not their hand. One of the guys who never expanded and stayed with it all these years is Gordon Hamersley. Weather you like his place or not, you gotta respect that he didn't sell out and open a bunch of places... and he could have. Seems as if everyone else who achieved success in Boston has done that. Can you name any others?

                  1. re: WineTravel

                    It depends on what you call success. Most chefs don't don the celebrity chef mantle (or necessarily want to) but could be considered successful in terms of the quality of their product and the customers they please.

                    Take for example Shanghai Gate, the second location, New Shanghai, has a different chef, also Shanghainese. Sichuan Gourmet has two branches, but the chef will cook at either one (I call ahead to check his location). The person who makes the sandwiches at Volle Nolle has been there the dozens of times I've eaten there.

                    One could likely add dozens among the chowhound favourites, just that these chefs don't do fine dining or French/Italian/New American food. But all the same, they are there to cook, not to promote themselves, so we never read their names or see their photos in the press.

                    If you're looking for more "mainstream" chefs, Scott Hebert, Gabriel Bremer, Tony Susi, Tony Maws, Deepak Kaul, Matt Abdoo, David Nivens are examples of chefs that I notice are in the kitchen nearly everytime (if not everytime) I eat at their restaurants.

                    1. re: limster

                      I love Salts and therefore, Gabriel Bremer. Let's hope, for our sake, that now that he was voted one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs this year, that it won't lead him down the same path as some of this city's top chefs.

                      Another great chef who is in his kitchen every night is Michael Leviton of Lumiere. He has been nominated for a James Beard award at least twice now, as well as other reputable awards, and is only now expanding into Boston with "Achilles".

                      1. re: JDog

                        Achilles? Ouch. Yet another misguided name...
                        First I've heard about this. Where did you learn about it/what more do you know, JDog?

                      2. re: limster

                        I find it interesting, and maybe also a little instructive, that the preeminent chef in Wellesley, Ming Tsai, gets no props in the litany of one-venue chefs in his own town. He's kept, at least so far, with his conscious decision of concentrating on Blue Ginger and actually having a family life. Is he disqualified simply because of his multi-media successes and celebrity status?
                        I think not. I also have to chuckle at OP's that start out with "Ming, unfortunately, wasn't in the kitchen last night and it showed....." Whether it's Ming or any other "name" chef, that's why: they have Sous chefs, set the menu, presentation and oversee, to a degree, the training of back and front people. It's always nice to know whenever they're in the kitchen but they aren't line chefs. The show still goes on with or without them, especially, when we're talking about a solitary venue.

                        1. re: Harp00n

                          Interesting. Yes Ming has one restaurant but IMO he doesn't get a pass for that. He's as guilty as the rest of em. He may not have another restaurant, but his other projects... tv and products mainly... keep him away from his restaurant quite a bit. While not on the line, when the chef is in the house things seem to go better... and when a celeb chef is not around for a while things seem to have a tendancy in most places to slip. Most single restaurant chefs ARE usually on the line... not all, most. What's the difference if he's away at a 2nd restaurant, or is away filming a tv show? I don't see any. I don't go to Mings any more. Same old menu every time... like seeing the same old play 10 times... after a while its boring. Also think quality has slipped. So, I don't give Ming a pass... on the contrary... he's a talented chef... and I wish he was MORE involved in Blue Ginger.

                          1. re: WineTravel

                            With all due respect, I think that's a very monochromatic view of the facts on the ground. Many, not all, chef-owners aren't on the line every night. Economics dictates it in some instances and, yes, by personal choice for others. Ming is there a goodly amount of the time but like a lot of successful chefs it's not 24/7. As I'm sure you know, his show is done at WGBH, for the most part, not Timbuktu. The Todd, Emeril and Jasper's of the world are in no way comparable to Ming in their involvement with their restos.

                            You don't own and maintain a resto of Blue Ginger's caliber by hiring slackers. Any chef worth his salt isn't hiring a sous who doesn't want to challenge and push the envelope.He wants somebody who'll, hopefully, want to stick around for a few years absorbing what they can before opening his or her own place.So this came as no great surprise to me when, on a couple of occasions at another "name" place, in "The Chef's" absence that the execution was better.

                            I think the level of professionalism has vastly improved overall in less than a decade.This spoken by a person who comes by a jaundiced eye naturally. Are there any slackers out there? You bet, and that's why god made Holiday Inns for them to skate and vegetate. There's a fair number of Hounds, including on this thread probably, that agree with you regarding slippage and ho hum but I'm not one of them, Again, respectfully.

                    2. re: JDog

                      What makes the food at Alta Strada more "Italianish?" Food in Italy is very regional, and as a result, comparisons can be rather difficult, especially since neither place focuses on specific regional styles.

                      1. re: limster

                        I completely agree with your point about the regional differences in Italian cooking. When I think of Italian cooking I think of simple dishes that use a few key ingredients, unlike some places that feel that the more ingredients you list in the description the better. I also think that Italian cooking is about using fresh, and local if possible, ingredients.

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