Erbaluce Redux - 2/15/09
4 of us went on Sunday, and since there hasn't been much posted since the initial flurry, I though I would share.
We all enjoyed our meal and experience very much. Here are my thoughts, after reading others comments and our dinner.
1. The menu is interesting, in terms of ingredients and preparation. Lombardia is a generally overlooked region, so there is lots of unfamiliar territory for us. This is a plus for any serious diner.
2. The service was attentive and personal. Joan, one of the owners, took our orders and served the wine. Chef Charles was in the room all evening, and stopped at every table. Both of them were interested in answering our questions and making sure we had a great meal and excellent experience.
3. The wine list is great. I was very surprised by all the comments about the lack of affordability. There are a number of wines under $50, several around $40, and as Joan pointed out, all of the wines by the glass are available by the bottle for 4x the glass price.
I think the way the list is organized may lead to these comments. The list is by geography, and then by alphabet (I think). That means that very expensive wines are next to inexpensive wines, instead of at the end of the section or on a Reserve list. Maybe there is sticker shock for some people. For Boston, there are probably more wines over $70 than most lists, but I find this range of prices attractive.
There are lots of very interesting and unusual wines. Since we didn't want to go with the familiar Tuscan or Piedmont choices, we asked for help. I gave Joan a price target of $80 or less. She immediately recommended a very good, and unusual wine for $42. (Unfortunately, I didn't note the name.) It was almost frizzante and had great fruit. It was from Lombardy I believe. It was a great match for our fish, squab, rabbit and boar mains.
4. The cooking is subtle. I may have been influenced by Devra First's review, but I found that, in comparison to other high end Italian restaurants, the flavors at Erbaluce are more subdued. In some ways, you have to work harder to figure out what is going on in a dish, but the effort reveals lots of layers and tastes.
5. The food ranged from good to excellent. Two of us split the gnocchi with boar ragu and the others had an arugula and dandelion salad. The gnocchi were light and wonderful and the sauce was perfect. I felt that the wilted bitter greens that were placed over the dish were too strong for the other flavors, but my co-eater liked them. The salads were an exercise in simplicity - fresh greens with some shaved vegetables, lightly dressed. Very nicely done.
The boar has been written about extensively, and didn't disappoint. The rabbit was a big hit, and was tender which is always a challenge. The squab was very good.
I did not like my entree as much as my DC's liked theirs. I had a fish, mormora, that I felt was slightly overcooked and lacked a distinctive personality. It had fascinating scales that had popped up in perfect rows across the skin after cooking, but I didn't like the taste they imparted.
Desserts were great with 1 slight imperfection. I had a cheese plate that was among the best I have ever had, anywhere, including France. 5 cheeses from Vermont and Italy, headlined by an aged Pecorino. The plate included pistachios, honey and a delicious tiny apple. The panna cotta and the poached pear were also excellent. The chocolate tort shell was too thick and somewhat tough, but was otherwise excellent.
6. Love the understated room and the artwork and think that the bar would be a great place to have a low key supper. The bar has an entirely different and interesting menu that can be ordered in the dining room. And vice versa.
Bottom line, Erubaluce is not quite perfection, but pretty close, and more interesting to me than many other Italian or French restaurants in the general price range.
I've eaten at Erbaluce twice, and liked it very much both times.
The first time, I had the veal minestra soup, and the fowl dish that was described as either pheasant, or similar to pheasant. Both were excellent. My wife had the cauliflower appetizer, which she pronounced delicious, and the rabbit (which I thought on the dry side when I tasted it). For dessert I had the poached pear, which was fabulous.
During dinner, the co-owner, Joan, came over to speak to us, asking how we were enjoying everything. She was also curious about how we came to know about Erbaluce - I told her "from the Internet", though it was from Chowhound. We also mentioned that we had been fans of Marcuccio's, and were glad to be able to eat Chef Draghi's food again. The chef also came over to speak to us for a few minutes, as he did at just about every table.
The second time we were a party of four, and we did the five course tasting menu with wine ($95, $75 without wine), which turned out to be 6 1/2 courses. There were four of us, and for each course, there were two different dishes. One exception - one of the courses the chef said he couldn't make up his mind, so he made us four different things. It was a relatively quiet night (Superbowl Sunday), so the chef spent a lot of time with us, explaining his dishes and choice of wine. (One of the wine choices was the Freisa - we liked it so much we asked the waitress to write the name down for us. She was nice enough to actually pull the label for us, with one of those "Label Lifter" things.)
I must confess I've forgotten most of the dishes we had - though I remember they were almost all wonderful. Some of those I do remember:
An egg white frittata
The gnocchi with wild boar mentioned earlier
A salmon dish
A skate dish
The rabbit (which I still thought was dry)
The panna cotta dessert (which normally I don't like - this was heavenly)
The chocolate torte
Though I have forgotten half (or more) of what we had, I do remember it being a remarkable evening, between the food and the personal attention.
We dined at Erbaluce the same night as the OP.
If our "hand-rolled fusilli" dish (w/ an arrabiata sauce and fresh ricotta) was any indication, the pastas here are indeed show-stoppers. Purportedly all housemade, you could really taste the difference. This is the one dish where things really began to click for us, and I began to understand what has been written about the chef's style - simple ingredients, intricate spicing, complex layers of flavor.
However, what I've regretted since is that I didn't opt for the potato gnocchi and wild boar ragout as my entrée. Having decided I was hell-bent on doing boar one way or the other for dinner, I ordered the wild boar rack to see if it met expectations. In this instance, it didn't. Ordered medium rare (the house sugggestion), one chop was cooked perfectly and the other was practically raw. I'm talking wildly out of sync in temperature, with one chop being a complete chore to eat, and the other showing flashes of what the dish could've been. If you're more savvy than I am, you would've sent it back to be corrected. Instead I chose to soldier through it. I enjoyed the concord grape musto, but the bitter mustard greens fell a little flat for me, probably because I was already being "challenged" by something else on the plate.
The nebbiolo ($12/glass) suggested for me was beautiful; tannic and tobacco-ey, it was a perfect foil for the protein and fat of the boar. (In fact, if anyone knows the producer, I'd love to track it down for home.)
Please don't let my belaboring of the boar SNAFU stop you from going there. Perhaps I'm airing it at length with the hope someone (either staff or guest) will be reading this and ensure it doesn't happen again.
Our service was excellent, even on a busy evening. As noted above, Chef Draghi was very present on the floor, and touched our table too, delivering our pasta. Our server (Irena, I believe) was very patient with us, considering we're neophytes to the Piedmont style and relatively clueless about Italian wine. Her wine suggestions were spot-on, and she ably guided us through some of the more foreign terminology on the menu. 2 apps, 1 split pasta mid-course, 2 entrées, 2 glasses of wine = $120 + tip.
I liked the room. Might try the bar sometime too, which looked lovely. We'll most definitely be back, but probably with more of an eye toward the pastas.
Not sure if this is the wine you are talking about because I'm pretty sure it's from the Piedmont, but on our visit to Erbaluce a few weeks ago we had a Freisa, which did have nice fruit and a subtle sparkle to it. I agree with your enthusiastic report. The gnocchi was sublime.
I love the food here, glad to see a detailed, enthusiastic review here.
I agree that the wine list is interesting, with lots of stuff you rarely see in Boston, but you can easily exhaust the under-$60 options in just a few visits. Not saying they're not fairly priced, but the majority of that list is out of my reach if I'm not dining on someone else's dime. The good news is that not one of those less-expensive wines is anything less than delicious.