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RW: Grotto, 8/3/2007

Dr.Jimbob Aug 3, 2007 07:35 PM

Grotto is celebrating Restaurant Week a little early by offering the prix fixe starting this past Wednesday 8/1 and extending it through 8/18. The menu turns out to be their standard three course prix fixe, with a dollar shaved off of the price, but my wife and a friend and I were treated nonetheless to one of the best RW meals that we've had. (For details on the Grotto menu, go to http://www.grottorestaurant.com/dinne... Their RW menu is pretty close to identical, sans sides.

)

The bread was a focaccia with some of the tastiest olive oil I've had in a while. No fancy spreads, no weird vinegar accents, just fruity and lemony and acidy goodness that doesn't need any tarting up. The wine selections included a RW special sangria a la Grotto which was the perfect thing for a hot sticky summer night -- not too sweet, just the right tartness and bubbliness and icy coolness. We wound up splitting two pitchers even though we didn't really need the second one.

For the primi, we got the baby spinach salad with roasted beets, spiced walnuts, goat cheese and a raspberry vinaigrette. It's a standard spinach salad, but the beets were roasted to perfection -- just the right hint of sweet, not cloying and no hint of dirt and matched beautifully with all the other parts. Then there was the tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, avocado, basil, EVOO and cold tomato consomme. This variation on the insalata caprese was masterly, with tomato and mozzarella slices stacked into two pretty little towers (or multi decker sandwiches) and the avocado adding an unexpected richness to the standard caprese. The Florence style pate, fresh cherries, lavender honey and EVOO-grilled country bread was the star of the primi though -- chicken liver pate whipped to creamy perfection and playing beautifully off of the cherries, making this the most inspired variation of peanut butter and jelly we've ever had. We wound up using leftover focaccia to leave this plate clean enough to use again.

The secondi were no less yummy. I was tempted to go with the gnocchi and short ribs which I remember being divine, but I was sure glad to wind up getting the tagliatelle with lobster ragu instead. The tagliatelle were lovely homemade pasta, though oddly I found myself liking the al dente chew at Sagra just a tad more (not sure if this is a RW churn-it-out issue or something bigger). I would never have picked out a tomato based red sauce to go with chunks of lobster, and I thought at times it overwhelmed the shellfish's delicate flavor, but my two companions loved every spoonful that they stole off my plate. My wife's grilled beef tenderloin, Reggiano risotto, grilled asparagus and red wine jus was perfection -- beautifully charred exterior to the meat, lovely soft pink and red rare interior, paired memorably with the shavings of Reggiano cheese and transformed into another plane with the addition of the risotto. Our third had the bacon wrapped apple stuffed duck breast (yes you read that right, winds up coming off like a little bite of sausage heaven), crispy duck leg (crispy to be sure, but oh so tender meat inside), Reggiano potatoes (something of an understatement -- really more like a creative take on potatoes dauphinoise, with slices of bacon and prosciutto to add an extra special salty something to an already classic dish), dried cherries, black truffle aioli and Madeira wine sauce (our friend didn't share this part of the dish, it was way too good).

For the dolci, we wound up with the melting chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream (a semi-molten pool of intense dark chocolate evil), the banana bread pudding with caramel ice cream and walnuts (another home run blend of sweetness, creaminess and carameliness) and the lemon semifreddo, raspberry sauce, crispy lemon cookie and lemon zabaglione (which in the Friday night heat melted into a single lovely sweet-and-sour cool and refreshing concoction). Espresso was expectably good and my wife didn't warm to the limoncello, but I loved the mix of sweetness, sourness and alcohol intensity.

With a few pitchers of sangria, a few bottles of Pellegrino, some coffees and a drink, the bill mounted rapidly (we wound up at about $70 a head, after tax and tip), but we walked away ecstatically fat and happy, pleased with the food, pleased with the setting and pleased with the very friendly, capable service. I think this may be the best meal I've had in a RW context, the first time that each of nine dishes ranged from extremely good to astonishing, and Grotto is jumping rapidly to the front of the line for my favorite of Italian restaurants in the Boston area. As the write-up above suggests, they're not enslaved to the straight Italian line, but the creative twists are quite interesting without ever losing sight of the roots that hold it all together. A wonderful meal, and one I look forward to having again once RW is over.

  1. b
    Bluebell Aug 7, 2007 02:06 PM

    A friend and I went for lunch today - a lot of food, but delicious! Both of us started with the tomato, mozz and basil salad. Lovely presentation, and the comsomme was wonderful. The bread and olives and olive oil were also a nice touch.

    For mains, she had the famous gnocchi and short ribs and I had the mushroom risotto. The risotto was good, but not amazing, also a bit of an acid taste - probably the roasted tomatoes. I know it's hard to make risotto look attractive, but this was just "risotto in a shallow bowl." The asparagus brightened it up a bit, but some sort of herb garnish might have enchanced it. This was a huge portion, and unfortunately I was going back to work and didn't want to deal with taking leftovers home.

    For dolci, my friend had the brownie sundae, and I had the lemon semifreddo. Both came in oversize cups. I'm not usually a dessert person, but the combination of lemon and berry was the high point of the meal for me.

    Service was very attentive, and the room was still fairly busy, even at 2pm.

    1. birdy30 Aug 7, 2007 07:34 AM

      Ok - I ought to go to the gym this morning after that hearty rich meal I had last night. Worth every calorie and every pound I just gained. Alas, I stay inside to report on Grotto's RW. Funny, there are two threads going on this place - one that states that the service and food were horrible and other that rave about this little basement restaurant. Brick walls, red painted pipes, and mirrors strategically placed about to open the the room up. The tables are a bit close and we happened to sit next to two young woman whose voices cackled above the hum of the other patrons. I swear if she said "like" one more time... but that wasn't going to deter me.
      The service was a little bit harried. One server for the room with plenty of backup . Lovely woman helped with a great bottle of Super Tuscan ($53); she even got excited to decant it into a brand new decanter. Reidel glasses too. It's a nice perk to have wine out of something other than those awful multi purpose glasses.
      We did wait a while for the server to take our order, but that was fine. We weren't in any rush plus the cacklers were on their dessert. I liked that we weren't rushed at all. I know for a fact that during this time it's bing bang boom. Get em' in! Get em' out! I didn't feel any pressure from them.
      The Roman opted for the tagliatelle for an appetizer. He said that it was spelled wrong on the menu so I don't know the word that was used. Heavy cream sauce with homemade sausage. Beautiful pairing with the wine. I had the fontina fondue. Maybe 4 pieces of portabello and four pieces of meat cooked rare. Nice simple presentation. I was glowing in our little corner from the tea light. After 3/4s of eating through the apps , I hear the Roman making his "Oh S*@t" sound that informs me he is becoming full. I wonder to myself if he is peetering out on me already? Is he going to wave his hand across his neck to say that he is cutting himself off already? We plug on.
      Of course, for our main courses, he gets the infamous gnocci with braised short ribs and I the bacon wrapped duck. Both extremely heavy dishes. His little pillows of pasta were fairly light, only to be topped with gorgonzola cheese and many many pieces of shortribs. The Duck should been known as the colon clogger. Bacon! And cheesy potato gratin! Oh so good! But yet so very bad! I know that on these hot summer nights, you ought not to order the way we did. There were many other options to chose from beit striped bass with corn, or an arugala salad with prosciutto. We did have to take half of the meal home.
      The server was pleased that I ordered the fresh berries with chantilly cream. Good way to go after stuffing our faces. Ha! The Roman had the lemon semifreddo. Very lemony with a nice strawberry and lemon sauce. With two meals, two bottles of water, a bottle of wine, and coffee drink, the bill came to $140.00 before tip. Was it worth it? Absolutely. The Roman was impressed. I was impressed. We will be there for the next Big Night in September.
      What we experienced last night was a far cry from other reviewers panning it. Huh.

      3 Replies
      1. re: birdy30
        bgavin Aug 7, 2007 01:19 PM

        Great review. Funny, accessible and concise.
        Thanks Birdy.

        I have only been to Grotto once. I think I forget about it, tucked in over there between the State House and Mass General.

        I would not spend my limited Restaurant Week evenings here since their regular menu is so reasonable.

        1. re: birdy30
          s
          Spike Aug 7, 2007 01:37 PM

          LOL. I think everything they have is an artery/colon clogger, but everything tastes sooooo good, reasonably priced, and you're not wondering where the entrees are because they served you appetizers all night ;-)

          1. re: birdy30
            Rubee Aug 7, 2007 04:42 PM

            Yay, Birdy! So glad you liked the place as much as we do. What a thoroughly entertaining review, you should post more often : )

          2. kobuta Aug 6, 2007 07:46 AM

            I was there for RW last night, and my friend and I had one of the best RW meals we could recall. We both opted for the crab ravioli to start. The dish was light (often tough for ravioli), but filling, with a slightly acidic thin (tomato based?) sauce. The toasted slivers of almond really added a nice smokey crunch to the dish, similar to toasted pine nuts, and I normally hate almonds. Both of us would have been happy to have about 10 of those as an entree.

            I also had the duck, which I enjoyed, but it was a bit heavy for me. The duck tasted great; I think as someone who doesn't eat bacon very often, I should've known the bacon would have gotten to me. As much as I love duck, I don't order it very often because it's almost always paired with something sweet, and I don't have much of a sweet palate. I tried it anyway, and though the dish has apples and dried cherries, I found none of the sweetness that usually kills the taste of the duck for me. My friend had the tagliatelle with lobster, and it was so good it might have made me into a lobster fan.

            The banana bread pudding was great, but I especially loved the caramel ice cream it came with. Someone please give me a bucket of that every summer. My friend had the melting chocolate cake with vanilla ice-cream. Had a bite, but it was way too rich for my tastes.

            All in all, a fabulous meal and my friend and I walked away stuffed. I would go back for that price-fixe menu anytime.

            5 Replies
            1. re: kobuta
              birdy30 Aug 6, 2007 01:22 PM

              Somehow I got the night off of work! Finally someone gets to wait on ME for restaurant week. After reading this thread, the Roman and I will head here for dinner tonight. I have actually never been on the receiving end so I am anxious to see how it all goes down at other places. Veddy excited!

              1. re: birdy30
                Rubee Aug 6, 2007 01:33 PM

                Hi birdy30! How have you been.

                Be sure to report back on Grotto - would love to hear what you thought; they're one of my favorites for RW (and any other time).

              2. re: kobuta
                Dr.Jimbob Aug 6, 2007 06:15 PM

                Actually if you look at the menu on Grotto's web site which is non-RW specific <http://www.grottorestaurant.com/dinne...>, you'll find that quite a few of the things on the RW menu are also on the standard menu. And the non-RW prix fixe is $34, so the main difference is with breadth of selection.

                1. re: Dr.Jimbob
                  kobuta Aug 6, 2007 07:14 PM

                  I'll take that dollar savings. I did notice that on the website, which is why I want to go back. I want more of that crab ravioli..

                  1. re: kobuta
                    Dr.Jimbob Aug 7, 2007 03:46 AM

                    It might be a good idea to send them an e-mail then and tell them what you thought of the crab ravioli. They do have a pretty decent web presence, and a mailing list, so I'd imagine they would be interested if someone felt that passionately about it.

                    That, and your review makes me want to try it now!

              3. p
                pollystyrene Aug 4, 2007 09:15 PM

                Yum. Grotto is on my long list of Italian places to try. I just pushed it up; can't wait. Thanks for the review.

                1. s
                  sophie fox Aug 4, 2007 05:36 PM

                  Thanks for your report. I'm glad that you enjoyed your meal. I've only been to Grotto once, in the winter, and found the food awfully heavy. I had the stuffed duck breast and thought it 1) was much too heavy overall and 2) had way too many flavors on the plate.
                  I don't understand having such a heavy dish on the menu in the hottest part of the summer.
                  Different people, different tastes - which is cool - but I can't say that I "get" Grotto.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: sophie fox
                    Dr.Jimbob Aug 5, 2007 04:24 AM

                    I can't comment on the too many flavors at one time thing, since I was trying stuff off of three different plates so my palate was expecting a range of flavors. The duck is a fairly complex dish, since there are two flavors to the meat, one being a relatively unfussed with duck breast, the other being duck wrapped in bacon. But the latter blended well with the ham-and-cheese-and-potato concoction and the sauce tied things together. You're right in that it isn't light eating, but my friend wasn't complaining. The other two dishes were also somewhat dense, though not necessarily as dense as the duck, and certainly a lot less complicated.

                    Also not sure how much there is to get about Grotto -- they do subtle variations on Italian classics, do the variations thoughtfully and very tastefully, and much of the result has a distinct comfort-food air about it (especially the divine gnocchi with short ribs and gorgonzola, which I had the other time I was there). Maybe you do need to go back in the winter?

                    1. re: Dr.Jimbob
                      s
                      sophie fox Aug 6, 2007 07:21 AM

                      Yeah, I think that I'll try it again, stick to the simpler dishes like the gnocchi. There is definitely a comfort-food, hearty aspect to it that I'd enjoy for winter dining. I hear really good things about the spaghetti and meatballs.

                      1. re: sophie fox
                        Dax Aug 6, 2007 09:04 AM

                        Sophie, beware that the gnocchi with shortribs, while comforting, can be quite rich and heavy. I loved it, but just beware if you are not seeking such. Getting the 1/2 order might be a better option and still try and share it.

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