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My first Prezza experience: the wine is superb, the food and service not so much

r
Ricardo Malocchio May 13, 2013 12:14 PM

My wife took me to Prezza for my 45th birthday on Saturday, our first experience there. We've wanted to go here for a long time, stymied recently by the fire. To say we wanted to love this place is an understatement. We expected to love this place.

I took an early peek at the menu and wine list, and was very impressed by both. After going back and forth on the wine, I settled on one of those great old vintages of a particularly well-loved Chateauneuf. There are many on the list, it wasn't the '78, but I"m not eager to share the exact producer/vintage as I'm hoping against hope that there may be another bottle in Prezza's wonderful cellar for a future visit!

Suffice to say this 30-or-so year old bottle was pristine and the wine was one of the most sensual and profound I've drunk all year. Fill was excellent, just above base-neck. The cork was soaked through and came apart upon opening, the bottom portion ending up in the wine, but fortunately in more or less one piece with only larger chunks floating about. The fire last summer clearly did not impact this bottle, and I was told that the cellar was unaffected save some slight water damage to a few labels, and remained cool even as the fire raged back in the kitchen.

As I said, I will return, if for nothing else than the wine list!

Which brings me to the other part of our experience, the food and service, both of which were lacking for any restaurant that would pride itself as among the class of the city (Prezza is clearly not going for world-class, Michelin star status). From the start, we were surprised to be on the receiving end of some serious table-turning pressure. I consider this totally unacceptable for any restaurant other than a cafeteria, and there wasn't even a second-seating issue here. Our reservations were at 9pm.

I'll chalk up the pestering, the interruptions, the snide comments (well, I have two of your courses, maybe you won't keep me in suspense any longer?) to an overzealous server attempting to be helpful and funny rather than annoyingly intrusive. But I'm being extremely generous here. My wife is not nearly so generous, and unfortunately for him she was paying the tip.

We started off well with a tuna tartar and some only slightly overdone tiger prawns. The latter dish is difficult, the shrimp wrapped in philo and fried which often leads to hard, stringy flesh. But this preparation was only mildly overcooked, and certainly within the bounds of a successful dish. Both paired well with our white choice for the evening, an '09 Droin Chablis 1er Vaillons, available at a reasonable restaurant price. The wine list scores again!

Our next courses were completely unsuccessful. For me, it was the "famous" (??) Ravioli di Uovo. Again, let me concede: a difficult dish to pull off. Prezza did not pull it off. The presentation is unappetizing, the beige upon beige of brown butter sauce on a very flat, wide lipped ravioli disc was not the slightest bit appetizing. And a slice of the fork was all it took to note before tasting that this was an exceptionally hard pasta around the rims. The yolk drizzled out as a very faint yellow (no Paolo Parisi deep orange here). The flavor? Tasteless. No yolkyness. No butteryness. Not a hint of the promised sage. And the texture was terrible. A total failure. I see that a recent Boston Globe reviewer had the same reaction:

Devra First:"“How is the ravioli?’’ our waiter inquires one night. Well, the wrappers are still hard at the edges. “Yes, those are very difficult to cook properly,’’ he says, walking away. While we appreciate that bit of insight, we’d be even more appreciative if he had taken them off the bill or seemed even vaguely apologetic."

I only wish I'd read this review before ordering the dish. It should be perfected or removed from the menu. I might have commented, as well, but another issue quickly arose and took precedence...

That other issue was my wife's dish, the Pea Raviolini, which contained an extraneous object that we discovered to our relief to be a pea tendril part. It's appearance was ghastly as you can see in the photo below (post the photo), but I fully accept the waiter's explanation after returning it to the kitchen and conferring with the staff. It was part of the pea tendril root system and should have been removed in prep. However, its appearance was so unappetizing that it's not unlike finding what appears to be a toenail clipping in your fish dish, freaking out ... and then realizing, oh hey, it's only a fish scale. Not nearly so ghastly, and yet unworthy of a self-described "fine dining" establishment. Here, it was emblematic of the inconsistency of preparation that marked much of the meal.

Finally, I had the veal Porterhouse, and my wife ordered the gnocchi Bolognese. Again, I fared better in that my only complaints are that the veal was overcooked (or my idea of medium rare being at least faintly pink in the middle of even the most done portion is not Prezza's notion), and the "risotto" (their term) was a thick, gelatinous pile of mush. My wife's gnocchi, on the other hand, were to my mind even worse than the "pea tendril parts" of her raviolini. Tiny, dessicated, chewy strings of what they have the unmitigated gall to refer to as "gnocchi", all drowned in a bland, forgettable sauce of red. The appearance and presentation suggested the dish was pre-digested. Except for the dense chewyness of the - oh ok - "gnocchi", for which a bit of pre-mastication may well have helped.

Um, we passed on dessert. Not that we weren't already being rushed out after the quickest two-bottle meal of my adult life.

SO, HELP ME, HOUNDS! There are only a handful of wine lists that are in the same league as Prezza's in this city. I want to give full credit where it's due here. And I want to return and have an overall experience more befitting the quality of the wine program. What should I have ordered instead? Should I avoid weekends? Sit at the bar? Go against my nature and make earlier reservations to avoid the table-turning bumrush?

Let me note in conclusion that the restaurant refers to itself as "Prezza - Fine Dining". And, indeed, the wine was very fine.

  1. Alcachofa May 13, 2013 01:19 PM

    Not sure what's going on there. The Raviolo di Uovo used to be their "go to" dish. They shouldn't be mucking that up, ever. I mean, things happen, but it happened to both you and Devra... that is very surprising.

    And I've always found the meats well prepared. So that's weird, too. I've also had good gnocchi there.

    My experiences there were all pre-fire. Hope this isn't a DH alert.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Alcachofa
      Small Plates May 13, 2013 02:20 PM

      I was there Friday and was wholly underimpressed with the raviolo di uovo. I was waiting all week for it, and the OP describes my experience with it to the T. I was so saddened because those calories could have gone to the polenta and squash blossoms or some of the other really great things I saw on the table.

    2. gini May 14, 2013 05:52 AM

      I am not usually a reader of long posts as I have the attention span of a goldfish. However, yours is a must read. Count me among the fans of Prezza - it was one of my go-tos pre-fire. I haven't been back since, but your post is definitely a warning.

      1. c
        cambridgedoctpr May 14, 2013 08:30 PM

        i collect wine and BYOB to Jean-Georges/Nagotine and 11 Madison which charge 40 and 35 bucks respectively.

        The only place in Boston where i willingly spend my money on wine is Troquet where the margins on great wine fall in between a normal wine list and what i would pay to bring my own wine to a great restaurant in NYC.

        It would take one hell of a wine list to convince me to eat at a restaurant with food that was not top-notch

        3 Replies
        1. re: cambridgedoctpr
          r
          Ricardo Malocchio May 15, 2013 06:49 AM

          I completely agree on Troquet. It is still the most special place in town for wine lovers and Chris is simply the greatest host, keeper-of-the-cellar, restauranteur, you-name-it. I've never seen anyone but him opening the bottles at Troquet, taking care that each is showing well for his guests.

          I also love the food, but not all chowhounders are similarly moved. I think it's brilliantly designed to accompany wines, though I'm usually back and forth between the duck and the pig. And anything that might have truffles on it.

          Prezza's margins, like most places, are greatest with the cheapest wines. Wine-searcher doesn't show any listings for the bottle I drank, but surrounding (lesser) vintages are at auction for approximately 50-60% of Prezza's price. Unfortunately, a 2x's markup is quite reasonable for US wine-lists, but that's a rant for another time...

          1. re: Ricardo Malocchio
            s
            ScotchandSirloin May 15, 2013 03:48 PM

            Auction prices are generally significantly cheaper than retail, which are in turn significantly cheaper than restaurant prices, so if the auction price is 50-60% of Prezza's price, I would consider that pretty impressive pricing by Prezza.

            1. re: Ricardo Malocchio
              c
              cambridgedoctpr May 16, 2013 01:21 PM

              the math is pretty simple; if a bottle is on a wine list at 2 x auction price, that makes giving a 40 dollar tip to bring a 40 dollar wine a toss-up whereas bring an 80 dollar bottle is a great deal. just stating the obviousl

              i do not begrudge the restaurant a nice profit on their bottle of wine, but I do like byob even if they have a high mark-up.

          2. The Chowhound Team May 16, 2013 10:05 AM

            We have a pretty strict policy on Chowhound of not allowing posts accusing restaurants of food poisoning, foreign objects in food and other health code violations. The original version of this post wasn't entirely clear that that wasn't the case here, so we asked Ricardo Malocchio to update it to make it very, very clear that he was not saying he did find anything untoward in the dish.

            3 Replies
            1. re: The Chowhound Team
              r
              Ricardo Malocchio May 16, 2013 11:31 AM

              Yes, the moderators contacted me, explained the policy noted above, and asked me to rephrase for clarity. They could not have been more cordial or understanding.

              I was glad to do so and pleased that they were very accommodating to my concerns, foremost among those the accusation of lying by another forum member (those posts were deleted). I was very concerned that altering my original post would obscure the fact that I totally accepted Prezza's explanation after the initial shock (shared by the waiter) and my colorful account of it.

              Second, I wanted it to remain clear - or indeed make it clearer - that my criticism here was of a carelessly plated dish. Whether it's a fish scale in the bouillabaisse, a random collection of tiny bones in the filleted Dover sole, olive pits, or hairlike pea tendril roots, such carelessness and lack of execution may not always lead to a ghastly misunderstanding like the one I originally described, but is nonetheless below the standards of any restaurant that proclaims itself to be "fine dining". I was pleased that Chowhound's policies do not prevent calling a restaurant out for these sorts of errors.

              So let me be absolutely clear: this is a photo of a pea tendril root and not anything more concerning. But I hope you can understand the initial response to it, ours and the waiter's.

               
              1. re: Ricardo Malocchio
                justbeingpolite May 16, 2013 11:54 AM

                Nicely handled RM. I do have to say, however, that looking at your photo, if you're talking about the object on the lip of the plate, that it looks very much like a pea tendril, and not very much like something much more "ghastly"! :o)

                1. re: justbeingpolite
                  r
                  Ricardo Malocchio May 16, 2013 12:12 PM

                  I completely agree. The following day I looked up some photos, and I do not doubt that it was either a hairlike root or a dried-out example of those frond-like extensions that are usually more curved/rounded looking.

                  Credit where it's due: the waiter expressed his shock on first sight, spirited the dish away, comped the bill, and returned later with an explanation that honestly seemed as much a relief to him as to myself. In the interest of fairness, I hope that's also clear.

            2. StriperGuy May 16, 2013 10:08 AM

              Just for the record, though I have had some rather nice meals at Prezza, I once experienced one of the worst, restaurant clip joint experiences regarding a wine swapperoo that I have ever experienced.

              The original thread is here:

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/734281

              I often get the feel that there are actually two Prezza's the warm welcoming Prezza for regulars who spend a lot of $ and the indifferent food/service, brusque attitude, and clip joint treatment that Prezza embodies for everyone else.

              1 Reply
              1. re: StriperGuy
                r
                Ricardo Malocchio May 16, 2013 11:05 AM

                Perhaps so. But bear in mind that I'd already set up the original bottle an hour or more prior to our reservation time, and ordered the second bottle immediately upon arrival. We were first-timers, but had already spent over $200 on wine before placing our first food order.

                That said, there are nights when I'd prefer to order only an inexpensive Barbera or Dolcetto or the like, and wouldn't want to be treated as second class for doing so.

                BTW, the "well rehearsed routine" you noticed on the wine switcheroo reminded me just a little of the shut-down response Devra First received when she was brusquely dismissed for complaining about the ravioli. Sounds like hey'd heard it before.

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