My problem is never what to make for dinner tonight, instead it’s what can I make besides pasta.  I could eat pasta in one of its many forms and iterations every night—and also for lunch and breakfast. It’s no different when I’m traveling and someone else is doing the cooking. Pasta is the thing I want.

 

Who wouldn't want to eat this?

Who wouldn’t want to eat this?

 

But outside of Italy, it’s a rare restaurant that delivers exquisite pasta, no matter what the form. So I’m forced to be flexible.

Here are the highlights (and lowlights) of a recent trip to Boston and New York.

BOSTON:

BISTRO 5.  It’s not Italy nor is the menu strictly Italian, but it’s the best of a chef inspired by the food of Tuscany and passionate about local and seasonal ingredients. Wonderful breads (a sign that someone in the kitchen cares), well-priced wines, a noise level that allows for conversation, and food that made me happy.

Thai Caprese: Brandywine tomato, mozzarella di bufala, coconut-basil sauce, and sesame cracker.

Thai Caprese: Brandywine tomato, mozzarella di bufala, coconut-basil sauce, and sesame cracker

Rye Cavatelli, sausage, chanterelles, caramelized walnuts, Pecorino

Rye Cavatelli, sausage, chanterelles, caramelized walnuts, Pecorino

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEGAL HARBORSIDE: It was the night of the once-in-a-blue-moon Blood Moon, so to be on the water in the cool Boston evening was the point, not so much the food.  Little necks were as perfect as they can be, the rest of the meal nothing more or less than you would expect from any Legal Seafood. That night, it was all about the moon.

SPOKE:  Spoke is the essence of Boston scenes that, as the website states, offer Food, Wine, and Fun. Noisy, cramped, and yet so relaxed and oddly comfortable, you’re glad to be there. The corn soup with crab and smoked pepper vanished from the bowl before a photo could be snapped, but take my word for its lusciousness. And then there was this:

Chilled squid ink tonnarelli with bottarga and lemon

Chilled squid ink tonnarelli with bottarga and lemon

NEW YORK:

Expectations are always high for New York Italian restaurants, because there have been those meals that have thrilled me by coming close to eating in Italy. (One example—and it’s happened multiple times here—Il Gattopardo.) So I was characteristically pumped for dinner at I Trulli, a restaurant serving the food of Puglia and one I had been trying to get to for several years. Alas, I Trulli was truly a disappointment. We ordered the recommended dishes—the traditional panzerotti, malloreddus,orecchiette—but I left feeling that the owners had sold the farm or at least left it in the hands of the overseers for the night. And so I was cheated out of my almost-like-in-Italy moment.

But one disappoints and another surprises. Our last night in New York was a dark and stormy one, and since the restaurant across the street from our hotel seemed like the smart choice, we dragged our low level expectations over to Fig and Olive. As it turned out, the service, decor, menu and wine selections, and ultimately the quality of the food itself added up to one exceptional experience—at less than the price of the ersatz Italian from the night before. For an appetizer, the crostini offered with a selection of toppings including—what else!—figs and olives, are truly exceptional. As for the rest of the menu, quality ingredients are the stars here and a beautiful presentation holds it all together.

MEDITERRANEAN BRANZINO Glazed with fig & 18 year old balsamic vinegar, snow pea, fig, olive oil mashed potato Koroneiki Olive Oil

MEDITERRANEAN BRANZINO
Glazed with fig & 18 year old balsamic vinegar, snow pea, fig, olive oil mashed potato Koroneiki Olive Oil

POACHED PEAR IN SPICED ORANGE JUICE Light whipped mascarpone, ginger biscuit and pistachio

POACHED PEAR IN SPICED ORANGE JUICE Light whipped mascarpone, ginger biscuit and pistachio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I’m back in my own kitchen, dinner’s coming up… and what do you think?  Tonight it’s spaghetti con zucchine alla Nerano.  Never heard of it?      Spaghetti alla NeranoCheck back. I’ll post it soon.  Now I have to peel zucchine.

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