What great weather this week for a dinner in the North End! We feasted at Sage then followed up with dessert at Gelateria.
Nice bread with a rustic crust and soft center, served with a delectable simple sauce - of tomato, olive oil and plenty of fresh basil - which had us licking the bowl. Lobster in a saffron butter sauce had a spicy kick plus some tang courtesy of a scattering of petite halved olives. The quantity of lobster seemed generous for the price ($14). The highlight of the meal was the other appetizer, a riff on a BLT: two lightly golden toasted circles of sandwich bread hugging a large bunchy round of warm, slightly oozy buffalo mozzarella. On the plate beside this triumphantly simple treat were a couple of slow baked pieces of tomato, their flavor intensified to its essence, and a light sprinkling of bacon pieces. I was initially skeptical about the sparse bacon use but I shouldn't have fretted: this chef's handling of an understated ingredient like fresh mozzarella proves that he has flavor proportions down cold. Without competition from the bacon, the mozzarella sang, its slightly saline creaminess gently highlighted by the other ingredients. My DC and I split the braised veal and spinach-stuffed pasta triangles with basil-butter sauce. Tasty and delicate, each plate held two small earthy-tasting triangles. Once again, the kitchen's attention to detail was rewarded: the triangles had been run under the broiler just long enough for the cheese and the edges of the noodles to begin to turn golden and add a toothsome textural contrast to what would otherwise have been a somewhat squishy dish. I even liked the quantities here. The appetizers are a generous size, and the mains barely larger. The impression this created was one of initial generosity (as one arrives quite eager and hungry), then the restrained size of the main course sets one's mind at ease from the start as to whether it will be possible to do the plate justice. A large selection of varietals on the by-the-glass wine list. We tried the Riesling, Chenin Blance and Verdejo. Other than the flat-flavored Riesling, we enjoyed our wine. Service was welcoming, well-paced and attentive without being intrusive. Total cost of the meal was about $70, including 4 glasses of wine. Really reasonable, we felt.
As delicious as the ricotta cheesecake with blueberry sauce at Sage sounded, we decided to hit up Lulu's for takeout before proceeding to Gelateria for dessert. While I like Gelateria and think it's a great idea for the N.E., I have a couple of gripes. First of all, unless I'm mistaken, there's no sign advertising what's available and the prices. Maybe the reason for this because of the more annoying fact that there seems to be only one size. Why? Surely they could manage to offer at least two or three - and definitely a smaller size is in order. Finally, many of the flavors I've tried so far lack punch. In the past, the hazelnut, the tiramisu and particularly the chestnut have been just so-so. No sure what the zuppa inglese is trying to do, but it doesn't do it for me. I think the Spartan fiore di latte is quite elegant in its simplicity (just tastes like sweet milk), though some might find it too plain. True, it can't be paired with any of the other flavors without being overwhelmed. I usually default to the zabaglione (sp?) which reminds me of eggnog, something for which I pine inconsolably from February through early November. This visit, I paired the zabaglione with the caramel. The latter lacks personality - either it needs a deeper sugar taste (moving towards "burnt") or maybe they could figure out a way to incorporate salt so that they flavor mimics the caramels topped with flakes of sea salt that one sometimes receives at the end of a meal in fancy restaurants. (Disclaimer to these comments about Gelateria: I haven't tried the fruit flavors - maybe it redeems itself there.)
As for takeout from Lulu's, I managed to snag one of the lemon meringue cheesecakes that Rubee described so tantalizingly a couple days ago. It was good, but I think they could take it to the next level by using only half as much cheesecake batter and tripling the amount of lemon curd (while keeping the lovely, fluffy meringue top as generous as ever). As it is, it's too much like the lemon is afterthought (a la Cheesecake Factory) rather than it being given top billing in an entirely new dairy dessert that riffs on a classic lemon meringue pie. Anyway, it was still very enjoyable and the owner who served us was really nice. I do hope they succeed.