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.