Dante: A sophisticated New England 21st century version of the great Italian classics my Nonna in Rome used to make.
I recently had the great pleasure of dinning at Dante de Magistris’s new restaurant at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge (across from the galleria). I am a native Italian who can count on one hand the number of Italian restaurant’s I have been to in 20 years in the US that have not disappointed, at the top of my short list is San Domenico in New York. After having tried the fare at Dante’s I now have another addition to that short list.
After a crisp dry prosecco we opened the meal by sampling the Oyster’s, and the raw calamari, peppers over brioche, salad. The oysters were fresh and came with a very well balanced sea salt based seasoning mix, and the calamari were exquisite and oh so delicate (may have been med calamari as they tasted too delicate and sweet to be north Atlantic). The pairing of the calamari with a nice Trebbiano worked very well.
After a lovely little amuse bouche ( some type of fish sashimi drizzled with olive oil and topped by a very light cream based spuma, or foam) we moved on to a selection of cooked appetizers. Here too Dante hit all the high notes and avoided the pitfalls of other chefs who fall prey to sensory dissonance when trying to play fusion with traditional Italian dishes. The New England clam bake take on traditional Italian zuppa di pesce worked very well indeed with the andouille mini corn dog adding a very flavorful accent to the dish. The other dishes we tried all showcased the refined sense of balance that Dante has in pairing foods and flavors, not over loading on any one particular flavor and in this way allowing the organic synergies to play out to perfection. This clever pairing of flavors was showcased again with the sweetness of the caramelized onion tart paired with the slightly tart goat’s cheese and the mildly acidic aged balsamic.
We were already in gastronomic heaven at this point but what came next really cemented Dante’s position on our list of top Italian restaurants in the US. His light gnocchi, complemented with fava’s and porchetta were perfection, and his handmade spaghetti ala guitarra, so authentic that they took me back to my childhood sitting at my Nonna’s kitchen table in Rome where I was consistently indulged by some of the best flavors Italian ingredients have to offer. I was so enraptured by this experience that it took me a moment to realize that there was something more in Dante’s rendition of this Italian classic, Edamame! The pairing was so natural and right that it almost escaped my attention but it added a slight nuttiness to the dish that served not only to enhance it but also to provide another counterpoint off of which the other flavors of the dish could play.
The secondo piatto’s were a bit more conservative and not as adventurous but still very good. Replete were the flavor pairings that made the previous courses so stellar, just in a more subtle manner. Of note was the Tenderloin and sweet gorgonzola pairing with morels and asparagus.
I had to forgo dessert but the flourless chocolate cake that others at my table had ordered got rave reviews. Instead I tried a cheese plate with a nice glass port that was put together very well with a thoughtful combination of fresh soft and appropriately aged hard cheeses.
I would love to see more pasta selections (his take on pappardelle ala lepre) and at least one risotto on the menu, and would also like to see the zupa di pesche New England clam bake fusion make an appearance as an entrée special showcasing New England’s ocean bounty. Lastly I would also like more adventurous entrees (to match the creative genius of the appetizer’s) and would be especially curious to see Dante’s take on more traditional Italian dishes like Ossobucco and Maiallino al forno. The restaurant is still in its infancy and will doubtless become a pillar of the Boston culinary scene due to Dante’s insight in to the potential of Mediterranean and New England ingredients paired with his thoughtful creativity. I am sure that time will see this accomplished chef put his stamp on many great dishes, and after my 1st taste of his genius I look forward to sampling each and every one of them!