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Sep 17, 2012 08:19 AM


I am planning a special birthday meal (mine!) and am interested in Erbaluce. We recently returned from a trip to Italy and I am looking forward to finding non red sauce Italian food here. Erbaluce's website does not list a menu or prices. I would like to keep the budget to the low teens for appetizers and mid twenties to low thirties for mains. Is Erbaluce over this range?

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      1. re: Kat

        kat, PLSE post a report if you go there, because i really want to try it but it has had a number of wobbly comments, mostly about the environment/design and service being not so appealing or warm.

        1. re: opinionatedchef

          I know, after I posted here I found a prior thread where the atmosphere was described as similar to eating in someone's " finished basement". Hmmm.....

          1. re: Kat

            really? gee, i never heard anything like that before; i just heard it was a little dull. But boy his food is really highly touted by sophisticated diners.

            1. re: opinionatedchef

              If you go to Google Maps, search for "69 Church St, Boston, MA", then drag the little man into the building, you can actually "walk" around inside the restaurant and see what it is like.

              1. re: wandergirl

                would you plse come over to my pc?
                right away???
                i am so PSYCHED to learn this. THANK you!

              2. re: opinionatedchef

                I'm sure you didn't mean to imply that someone is an unsophisticated diner if they do not highly tout his food, correct?

                1. re: Duster17

                  you done grokked me, duster. Absolutely correct.

              3. re: Kat

                I prefer the tables on the bar side of the restaurant, if not the bar itself. Special enough for a birthday meal. (Also: I think the wild boar meatballs are the best I've ever had; on the bar menu only.)

                1. re: Jolyon Helterman

                  Agree about the wild boar meatballs. They will serve them on the dining room side if you ask. We always do.

                  1. re: Jolyon Helterman

                    I thoroughly enjoyed a meal recently at the bar at Erbaluce and Peter the bartender was why. Very friendly and helpful and really made it special. The food, as always, was great. Tried a sunflower appetizer which was interesting but not something I'd crave. The pasta, on the other hand, was a black olive pasta with a porcini sauce was FABULOUS,although a heavy hand with the fresh marjoram did keep me from thoroughly enjoying it. Prices do add up, though. Diner for two with apps, mains, dessert and 4 glasses of wine was $192 after tip. It was worth every penny though.

                      1. re: Kat

                        $192 works out to about $80 per person plus a 20% tip. Your original request was low teens for appetizers and mid twenties to low thirties for mains - call that roughly $40 to $45 per person - it's not really that difficult to get from there to $80 with 2 glasses of wine and a dessert.

                        As Chris VR says, the prices do add up, but the dinners I had at Marcuccio's back in the day, and my one visit to Erbaluce, have been among the most memorable dining experiences I've had.

                        1. re: Allstonian

                          You are right. We usually never get dessert, and if we also keep it to only two glasses of wine we could probably do it for under $150, which is the high end of our splurge meal budget.

          2. We enjoyed our dinner a while ago there. I was impressed that the kitchen was very willing to adapt dishes for a vegetarian (or other dietary restrictions). A representative menu with prices can be found here (the menu changes rather frequently by what is in season):

            1 Reply
            1. re: yarm

              Thank you for that link. The menu looks like exactly what I had in mind. Delicious! Thank you!

            2. I have to admit I do not get what the Erbaluce hype is all about. I had just about one of the worst meals I have ever had out. (as did everyone else in my party) The service was good, but the food inedible. The space is lacking warmth. With all of the fantastic dining in Boston, I would not recommend you put this on your list.

              16 Replies
                1. re: Pomegranate Martini

                  I wondered that myself. I can understand folks not liking Draghi's approach, which some consider unusual, and he'd call true to his Piedmontese roots. But I've never had anything that remotely demonstrated a lack of absolute technical proficiency or finesse. He's not uniformly beloved here, but I think he's one of the great ones in Boston, sui generis.


                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    I concur, MC. I've eaten here close to a dozen times as its one of our favorites, and never had anything remotely "bad" though of course I've liked some things more than others. I do find the room "blah" but I love the location, set on that charming corner, but have also always had good service. I particularly appreciate the care they take with my celiac friend who can come here and know she'll get gluten-free crackers and be attended to directly, not the usual "oh those two things on the menu should work." However, I no longer recommend it to strangers or on this board: I bring friends with me when I think they might share my pleasure in one of the least "cookie cutter" cooking approaches in town.

                    1. re: teezeetoo

                      Chacon a son gout and all, but I've never understood the almost visceral dislike some people seem to have for Erbaluce. I don't remember anyone ever having that level of antipathy for Marcuccio's back in the day, and to my palate, the food at Erbaluce is basically what he was doing there with a bit more refinement, Nor do I dislike the room and I've never had any problem with the staff. On the other hand, I've always found the waitresses at Regina quite friendly and sweet, and that place is legendary around here for having surly staff, so maybe I'm just weird.

                      1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                        Maybe it's Draghi's extensive use of fresh herbs, including some things few others use?

                        I think the dining rooms could be a bit more luxe, closer to the level of the food, but it looks like they've put a little work into dressing them up slightly in the past year. Or you could justify in the Asian sense of, "We're putting all our money in the kitchen and onto your plate."

                        I too find the service to be generally excellent.

                        I never thought about the Marcuccio's comparison, but that is in fact where I got hooked on his cooking, maybe the first place I'd ever encountered in the North End where the food really excited me.

                        I've encountered some surliness at the door of Regina's on a couple of recent visits. I can't imagine dealing with a steady stream of tourists who are surprised and pouty to find a line would give me a sunny disposition, either.


                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          I think the surliness is part of the character of Regina's. Like the time in the '60's when I tried to pay my $15.00 check with a $100.00 bill, the waitress peeled of my change in $1.00 bills (from her apron pocket). When you're the best you can afford to be a little surly. I'm sure most of it is all in fun.

                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            Erbaluce used to be the first thing out of my mouth to recommend to visitors but I, too, have stopped. I don't get why it's such a polarizing love it-hate it place either. One stupid hypothesis I posed once was that the simple aesthetics of plating wasn't dazzling enough to diners, but the last several times I've been, the platings have been not only creative but gorgeous (in particular a baked sunflower). Another hypothesis I pondered was my belief that the menu strengths did not lie in the pastas, but then one day I had an absolute mind-melter of a carbonara, crispy guanciale and two kinds of peppercorns (smoked & fermented), far and away my favourite one in town. I can't imagine that his idiosyncratic avoidance of butter or other animal fats in cooking could be the reason - in fact, I don't think it's even noticeable, rather the contrary, it highlights the natural flavours of the main dish component, and is complemented by a few simple, and often herbaceous, accents. Sometimes these accents come in the form of bold flavours like bitter sorrel or something really floral, but it's never so integrated into the dish that you can't just flick it off.

                            I think the problem is everybody likes bad red sauce.

                            I agree with the suggestions of sitting at the bar if you can. I don't think the enoteca menu is available in the dining room (or at least not always) and there's invariably at least a few things on there that are most compelling and not to be missed.

                            It's not fancy or fashionable, there's no gimmicks (local & seasonal just is), there's no celebrity status, but it's one of my favourite restaurants anywhere.

                            1. re: Nab

                              I don't like bad red sauce and I don't like Erbaluce. I really resent the implications being made here that if you don't like the food your palate is not sophisticated. I went with the expectation that I would be blown away (expectations set by this board) and I was not. Maybe it was an off day or whatever, but the flavors were muted and dull for me. No one else in my party of four expressed a desire to go back. Places that we love and frequent in the Boston areat: Bergamot, Craigie, Sweet Cheeks, Hungry Mother. I won't mention others throughout the country and the world but they aren't the bad red sauce types of restaurants. I feel really bad that those of us who don't care for Erbaluce are being portrayed in this way.

                              1. re: Duster17

                                It's obviously misguided for any Hound to suggest that if they like something and you don't, there must be something wrong with you. Most Hounds recognize that taste is a personal, subjective thing, and that nobody should have to defend an opinion here simply because there are a bunch of Hounds with a different one.

                                (Unless you say you like Fire + Ice: that clearly is crazy talk.)


                                1. re: Duster17

                                  I was just joshin' with that comment Duster, my apologies, bad joke. I think I have heard the joke so many times in this debate (here and elsewhere) that I forget that it may not have context everywhere.

                                  The fact that you like Sweet Cheeks tells me you are a rube from the north who has never had real barbecue. (kidding)

                                  1. re: Nab

                                    In that spirit, Nab, I will posit that your preference for the XLB at Gourmet Dumpling House to those served at Dumpling Cafe marks you as a swine with the palate of a longshoreman whose sense of smell has been destroyed by exposure to ammonia. Did I mention I've been to Shanghai, and thus possess the One True Opinion on soup dumplings?


                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                      We're getting precariously close to the Fire + Ice Rule when you bring up GDH !

                                      1. re: Nab

                                        We split the Gourmet Dumpling House / food crawl discussion over to another thread. You can find it here:

                                    2. re: Nab

                                      Ok, no worries. I did show my rubeness (?) with the reference to Sweet Cheeks -- got me there. I have no idea why talk about this restaurant gets me riled -- I should just keep moving when I see it mentioned!

                                      1. re: Duster17

                                        i recommend trying BT's BBQ in Sturbridge though it is quite a haul from Boston.

                                        If you can't make it out that far, perhaps Sweet Cheeks is ok; I have never tried it.

                                        I learned about it here on Chowhound.

                            2. re: teezeetoo

                              You are convincing me to give Erbaluce another try. I had trouble ordering because of my various food restrictions, but I remember thinking that a lot of the dishes looked great, if only I could eat them. I did ultimately enjoy what I ordered (it was a while ago now, but it was a wild mushroom dish, perhaps a crepe?), though I would have enjoyed it more as an appetizer and if I had had more choices (which apparently I would have had if I had only spoken up!).

                        2. People seem to be all over the board on this one. OK. I am looking for Italian food as you will find it in Italy. Smaller portions, not drowning in heavy red sauce, seasonal ingredients and contorni to be ordered separately, for example. I don't want to leave really full because we have a concert after and I want to have fun, not be in need of a nap. Will this place fulfill these expectations? Thx!

                          11 Replies
                            1. re: Kat

                              It is most definitely Northern, not a red-sauce joint, though I occasionally see dishes that originated outside of Piemonte, like a chocolate and eggplant dessert that is from somewhere south (Calabria? Sicily?). The menu structure is antipasto, primo, secondo, but there isn't a group of contorni to order from; those are typically plated along with secondi.

                              I'd say you have to order carefully, as the portions run larger than the modest, sensible ones you typically find in Italy. I would not be able to polish off a three-course dinner here; we generally split a primo and often will only order one secondo, too. You definitely want to save room for dessert. Draghi is unusual in that he has no pastry chef, does his own desserts, and is really good.

                              The wine list is also noteworthy, full of interesting, little-seen Northern wines, and the GM, Joan, is an excellent, informative curator and sommelier who listens to her customers. If you want a proper cocktail, you need to stop somewhere else first; the license here is beer/wine/cordial, and while they do very good things within that straitjacket, it does constrain your options for drinks.

                              If you're looking to avoid overeating, I might suggest sitting in the bar and ordering a few small plates from the enoteca menu and perhaps one anti and one primo.


                              1. re: MC Slim JB


                                You're opinion is always spot on to me. Would you agree that Erbaluce is the closest thing we have to Italian food as one would find it in Italy? My gf and I just returned from a three-week trip to Italy, and, since our return, we cannot seem to find any food resembling the freshness, respect, and authenticity of ingredients we encountered throughout Italy. For example, I am already intrigued by Erbaluce's wine list, which offers a few Ligurian whites that are almost impossible to find retail in Boston.

                                1. re: zgold10

                                  Always nice to have someone on the same wavelength!

                                  I haven't spent enough time in Piemonte to judge how traditional Draghi's food is, but he was born there and claims to follow his grandmother's cooking style for many dishes.

                                  Quite agree with your other comments on Erbaluce's food and wines. It remains one of my very favorites in town.


                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                    Thanks for the response. Do you regard Erbaluce as good enough to be a special occasion type of place? I plan on proposing to my girlfriend in the near future. As I mentioned, we just returned from Italy, and I am looking to recreate that magic for a post-engagement dinner--I will have proposed to her earlier in the evening. Do you think Erbaluce would fit the bill?

                                    1. re: zgold10

                                      I hate giving advice on gigantic romantic occasions. It's like giving people advice on a haircut. On the one hand, I'm all about the food, so yes. On the other, more romantic ambience might be called for than offered by Erbaluce's rather plain rooms. But I can't think of any fancier traditional Italian places I'd rather go. I hope that helps while also absolving me of any responsibility for your choice.


                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                        Thanks, Slim. I think Erbaluce it is. We are not too picky about ambience, so long as the food and service are on par. And thanks for reminding me I need a haircut too.

                                      2. re: zgold10

                                        I will go out on a limb and say that you should not go there for your post-engagement dinner magic - the room and setting is just not romantic enough.

                                        So says the guy who had a picnic in a park and then went to Santarpio's after proposing. Different kind of magic.

                                        On the other hand, you might try calling Chef Draghi and explain that you have picked Erbaluce to dine after proposing and whether something "special" might be arranged for the two of you. That special treatment may trump any ambiance issues.

                                        1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                          For us, I think food would trump all as well. Great food can make up for alot in my mind. So thank you for the advice. And any girl would go to Santarpio's for a post-engagement meal is an absolute keeper. I love it. Thanks again for all of the advice.

                                        2. re: zgold10

                                          I found Erbaluce interesting but I personally would not call it the most 'authentic' of Italian spots or even Piedmontese spots to be honest and I would be surprised if Draghi were aiming for that actually. I discussed this with a Piedmontese chow friend just the other day who is also of the same opinion in fact (I lived mostly in Rome but also spent some time in the North).

                                          If you are looking for a more romantic and solid Italian spot which also is well regarded by this board and many in the Italian expat community here, you should probably give La Campania a try. It is probably the most typically romantic of the higher level Italian places here and offers more secluded dining if that is what you are after.

                                          1. re: retrofabulousity

                                            I am a Piemontese DOCG (controlled designation of origin guaranteed :)) and some of Draghi's dishes might be inspired by my Region but they are certainly not authentic. The whole menu is definitely "Italian influenced", very well balanced and executed, but it is not something that in the old country we would call "verace". It is a good restaurant, you will enjoy the food and don't forget, when you make the reservation, to ask for a quiet table :)

                                2. Done. I am making the reservation. Thanks to all for the help!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Kat

                                    please let us know whether it met your expectations. I sincerely hope it does.