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Giacomo's - From The Briny Seas

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Giacomo’s always fascinated me; while other places went wanting with empty tables, the line here seemed endless. With so many good to excellent restaurants only steps away, why did so many wait so long for this one establishment? Finally on Thanksgiving eve, I had the chance to find out. We were seated immediately and the table already was set up with nice crusty bread, olive oil and water. Why other places don’t get this part right is confounding. When guests sit down, there should be some food in front of them, both at home when entertaining and when dining out. The wines-by-the-glass were limited so we ordered the chardonnay; it was decent and we were thirsty. On to the food: My DC believes that one of the true tests of an Italian kitchen is the friend calamari, so we ordered and shared a large appetizer portion and if it were the SAT’s of cuisine, this would have scored a solid 2300 out of 2400. Light, crispy and perfectly presented with a nice marina sauce for dipping. For a main dish to share we ordered the half lobster with linguine, mussels and clams with the scampi sauce. It came to the table beautifully presented, steaming with piled high mollusks and a plume of garlic wafted through our souls as it was set in front of us. We dismantled the lobster, split the pasta and shellfish and the waiter came by with the freshly grated parmesan to which we said ‘yes!’ The first forkful - with great anticipation - revealed the true flavor of SALT. SALT! Such a rookie mistake, so over-saline and almost inedible. The scampi sauce (one of five sauces they offered) ruined the dish. Not that we did not finish every last morsel, but it failed to impress and was downright disappointing. I have ordered nearly the same meal at several other N. End places and this one was the pits. It left me wanting for a good meal. I always say “that’s why they put it in shakers – so you can add your own.” Too many cooks are desensitized to salt that they keep adding it until they can taste it. Big kitchen mistake. I make better at home, with fresh basil and parsley too, none of which were detected here, just predominantly salt. I might go back and try a red sauce or the house special Giacomo made with lobster bodies and cream. But if I had to wait, I’d go elsewhere, almost anywhere.

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Giacomo's Restaurant
355 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02113

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  1. I am admittedly a purist, but IMHO Giacomo's should not have even offered parmesan with a shellfish dish, and discouraged you from adding it if you requested it. That is far more of a rookie mistake than over-seasoning, and was probably the primary reason for the salinity factor of the dish that put you off.

    (And an Italian kitchen, unlike an Italian-American kitchen, would not serve marinara with fried calamari, fritto misto, etc. - just lemon wedges.)

    2 Replies
      1. re: StevieC

        They offered and I assumed it was appropriate, being the customer. The sauce in the bottom of the dish that was without Parmesan - was just salty. I will try the vongole at Il Casale....still looking for Nirvana in the N. End. Elusive.

      2. That's a bummer. I think Giacomo's is usually pretty good with simple, basic dishes. If I had a dish that was that incredibly oversalted, I would have sent it back --clearly it was simply b/c of a heavy hand w the salt, so I'd like to think that's something that could have been corrected?
        On the other hand, I've had other sauces or pasta dishes that were just meh. Poorly seasoned or overcooked or whatever ---not as easily rectified as less salt, imo.

        On a purely side note: I had one of the best spaghetti vongole (w. white clam sauce) anywhere at Il Casale the other night. The pasta was fresh, al dente, and delicious. The sauce garlicky with a touch of spice --perfect.

        1. How do you know how long the water and bread has been waiting for you on the table? 2 mins? 30 minutes? I would have wondered if someone sat down and asked to move tables so they just left the water and bread on the table...

          1. Fast forward a couple of years... My wife and I recently ate at the Columbus Ave. location. Amazingly, there was no line when we arrived and a table for two was available when we walked in. This on a busy Saturday night at 6:30. For the record, all of the other tables, as well as the bar stools, were occupied and there was otherwise a short line throughout the evening.

            We both ordered the Caesar salad, shared a crab cake appetizer, but chose different main courses. The salad was generous and green, if slightly over-dressed, and the crab cakes were perfect. Crisp on the outside, fresh tasting and creamy on the inside, with a nice complement of greens.

            By chance I also ordered the half lobster with linguine, mussels and clams, but with the Giacomo's red sauce, instead. While the linguine was past being al dente, it was still tasty. The seafood was as fresh as I've had anywhere and perfectly cooked. There was no skimping on the quality, as well as the quantity of the latter, either. Luckily, the house sauce did not suffer the same overly saline fate as the scampi mentioned above, but was rich and nicely seasoned.

            By contrast, my wife's main selection of eggplant ravioli (one of that night's specials) was, like ipsofatso's scampi, way too salty. In fact, if it were my selection, I would not have been able to eat it and would have seriously considered sending it back in exchange for a different choice. If it were a Top Chef challenge dish and I were a judge, the chef and his knives would have been sent packing. On the other hand, Mrs. CRS is apparently not as sensitive to salt as I am and happily devoured the whole thing.

            Seasoning issues aside, the service was very professional and the beer and wine selection decent for the price and setting. The beers were from regional micro-breweries and featured pilsner and IPA styles. Personally, I would have preferred a dark ale, but it was better than being stuck with the deadly trio of Miller, Coors, and Bud.

            So, while not haute cuisine, Giacomo's is a good experience if one orders the right main dish. If it's anything involving sauce, stay with the house red. Despite the salty eggplant, we enjoyed the overall experience enough to want to return and try the non-pasta entrées.

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            Giacomo's Restaurant
            431 Columbus Ave, Boston, MA 02116

            3 Replies
            1. re: Code Red Sauce

              Never had a bad meal at the Columbus Giacomo's. You know what you're getting, the wine is cheap.

              Works with us.

              1. re: typhoonfish

                I'll give Giacomo's the benefit of the doubt and say that the experience with the excess salt may have been an unfortunate coincidence. Who knows? As with the scampi, when making up the pesto, a newbie in the kitchen may have misread tbsp. for tsp.

                In any event, I'd still give it 3 to 3-1/2 stars and happily recommend it to friends (which is how we found it).. In fact, we're look forward to our next meal there.

              2. re: Code Red Sauce

                I have to admit that I have a soft spot for Giacomo's South End. They take reservations and the prices are reasonable. When I was dating, it was a decent spot to suggest (as the girl) because pretty much everyone likes Italian food, the prices are reasonable, and it is noisy enough that you don't feel self conscious about everyone in the restaurant overhearing your awkward first date conversation. I pretty much always order the same thing (the gnocchi) but have also tried the lobster rav, the pumpkin tort and some of the seafood specials. I am a fan of the calimari (love the hot peppers) and the sangiovese wine is remarkably good for the cheap price. I don't think the food is out of this world but it is good decent comfort food Italian. My only negative is the cash only policy but there is an ATM within walking distance.