Location: Boston, MA (See on Map)
The Foodie: Recommends
The Aquitaine Group (masterminds behind Union Bar & Grille, Metropolis, and Gaslight) have breathed a limoncello-laden breath of Italian air into the location that once was Rocca. This brings their resume of south end restaurants up to five as they apply their formulaic approach of superior service, snazzy restaurant design, and solid food to another location.
Before I go on, I present to you a few notes on the Italian food scene in the greater Boston area:
In short, we are not quite nailing it yet – but there are promising signs of change in the right direction.
- Let’s start with the North End to get it out the way. Our most famous neighborhood for Italian food presents a sad assortment of overpriced tourist traps that are better off avoided. There are a few bright spots in the form of authentic little salumerias, bakeries, and coffee shops but none of these establishments have me jaunting over there on the reg.
- On to haute cuisine. Spots like Rialto, Via Matta, and more recently Giulia deliver very respectable dishes and a dose of authenticity but with a heftier price tag. I have not tried Sportello or Coppa but would guess they both sit right here as well. These guys are taking steps in the right direction and I give them a swagger and a nod – I just wish they were more accessible.
- Then there are the down-home joints. I’ve become enamored with a smattering of more low-key joints over in Cambridge and Somerville like Pescatore, L’Impasto, Gran Gusto, and Posto that really do great things with an authentic, home-cooked unpretentious flair. Pescatore assembles sexy seafood dishes, L’Impasto bakes amazing fresh bread, and Gran Gusto and Posto are cranking out some outstanding pizza. Though you have to expect a little less consistency from these spots – they have earned my respect along with a half-smile and a twinkle of the eye.
- What about pizza? Sigh…this is an area where I am currently very upset, stomping, and mad that I’m not getting my way. We are not doing pizza well enough in Boston. Slices range from tasteless to overly inventive (Salvatore’s) to scandalous (Upper Crust). Though there are some mentioned in this review who make an effort, we need a complete makeover in this important food group. In fact, I’ve recently made a resolution to learn how to make respectable-enough pizza in my own oven to avoid ordering out – recipes wanted!
- Other random bright spots in somewhat unexpected places. Marliave actually is a hidden gem with some nice Italian fare. I possibly had the best gnocchi in my life at Salts in Cambridge. Dave’s Fresh Pasta is selling off excellent paninis, pasta, sauces and more…plus their recent child Spoke Wine Bar (see previous review) looks poised for great things as well. Every once in a while Area Four in Kendall will dish out a pizza that simply blows my mind, and their food truck intrigues me as well. The Butcher Shop in the south end will supply endless plates of outstanding antipasti and cured meats for you as well.
So with all that said, where does Cinquecento fit in?
This is all a very long way of saying that I liked Cinquecento, but feel that as a city we really need to raise the bar on our Italian cooking. The Aquitaine Group is definitely among those taking steps in the right direction – as evidenced by:
- My braised rabbit gnocchi with green olives, parmesan, and a heavenly little pink sauce
- Our Sardinian wine that wowed me from sip one
- The burrata special that was imported creamy goodness inventively paired with rhubarb in pickled and crystalized form. Pretty dish too.
All this in a legitimately cool setting that is designed to power out hundreds (or probably thousands) of dishes each night to a hungry mass of Bostonians.
Nick, o ye wise food sage, tell me – what is coming in the future?
Yes, young grasshopper. I sense that the best Italian cooking is a little further afield. I intend to survey Medford (AKA Meffa) for this genre and already have a few good leads. The best slice of pizza in New England lives in Portland, ME…so there must be more hidden secrets out there in the woods beyond the route 128 belt.
Next, celebrity chefs have taken an interest in us. Mario Batali is planning on opening a Babbo Pizzeria in Fort Point. We are receiving Italian food aid from other states to assist with our dire situation.
Where do I think the Italian food scene in Bostonia should go? People are trying to do too much. I say enough of trying to be all Roman things to all people. Pick a specialty and do it right. How about a classy salumeria with house-cured meats and a bangin’ wine selection? How about a few authentic, small pizza joints pulling the real deal out of wood-fired ovens? Shit, how about a shop that just serves frickin’ awesome meatballs? How about a spot out on the docks of Fort Point serving the freshest-possible Cape Cod & MA-state seafood wrapped up in fresh-as-hell pasta?
If an enterprising chef out there happens to stumble across these words – either a Boston native or a small-town Italian chef from afar…please…make my dreams come true.