We dined at Marco last night on one of the Gilt coupons ($50 for app/entree/dessert for 2, available till midday tomorrow I think). I had eaten there once, shortly after they opened 6 years ago and had a vague recollection that they stuck to fairly rustic, Italian-style (rather than Italian-American) preparations of fairly classic dishes. Not anymore, based on our dinner.
We ordered the shrimp bruschetta, the mozzarella and ricotta fritters, the tagliatelle Bolognese, and the osso buco.
The focaccia and caponata they brought at the beginning of the meal was very good. The appetizers were huge. The fritters were three tennis ball sized balls of breaded, fried cheese surrounded by a simple tomato sauce. The fry job was nice, and mostly-ricotta cheese was smooth and milky-sweet. But the tomato sauce erred on the sweet side and had only about three strips of basil chiffonade, and so the dish seemed too sweet and rich on the whole. Of course, the portion size probably contributed.
Fortunately, the shrimp bruschetta offered a nice tart counterpoint. In calling it "bruschetta" they were certainly taking some...artistic liberty with the term. It was about half a dozen large shrimp and some quartered plum tomatoes in a generous quantity of thick white wine and butter sauce that included a healthy dose of garlic capers and lemon juice. Oh, and a tiny wedge of ever-so-slightly grilled foccacia was found swimming in the sauce. The dish was delicious, and again, the portion large, but there is no way in hell anyone would call it "bruschetta." I mentioned the sauce was thick--it was thick almost to the point of gloopy (but not quite)--which made it feel like it had a sort of "restaurant-iness" to it that I usually don't associate with Italian food. This turned out to be a theme as the meal continued...
My wife had the osso buco, which was perfectly fine, from what I could tell (I only ate a small bite). It was a nice large piece of shank, cooked sufficiently with what looked to be a good initial sear. The risotto Milanese had plenty of saffron flavor. But this dish came out with a "restaurant sheen," looking like it had bee lacquered with demi glace. The plate could have doubled as a plate of plastic food outside a Tokyo restaurant. I dunno...weird.
My tagliatelle Bolognese was, again, something I wouldn't really call tagliatelle Bolognese. The homemade pasta was very thick and stiff (they remained crinkly in the bowl from their resting shape), and the noodles were the widest "tagliatelle" I've seen--they were probably 0.75" wide. And Bologna must be swimming in cream these days, because the sauce was thick with the stuff. As someone who grew up eating Marcella Hazan's ragu, well, I was a bit disappointed. Like the cheese fritters, this was another dish that was heavy on the rich and sweet flavors, with no acidic counterpoint. Combined with the chunky noodles and the big appetizers we ate, I said uncle after eating maybe a third of the portion.
For dessert, we both had the affogato, which was a nice relief from the richness of the rest of the meal. I think I would have passed out if they had brought the chocolate torta or the tiramisu.
The service was a bit slow. Food came out hot and prompt, but otherwise our waiter seemed overworked. Either they weren't expecting a full house on Wednesday, or they need to hire another waiter. Oh, and the place is loud--small, lots of hard surfaces. The tables by the windows are nice.
I'm a little conflicted over what to think of this meal. On one hand, there were no blatant misses. But on the other hand, when I see a menu of fairly classic dishes (tagliatelle bolognese, risotto ai funghi, orecchiette w/sausage and broccoli rabe, chicken cacciatore, osso buco milanese, etc), I expect these dished to be executed traditionally. Bruschetta with no bread? Ragu with cream? Lacquered osso buco? I don't want to badmouth a place just because it doesn't follow the "rules." Nonetheless, it's distracting at the least, and it takes what could be a very simple, straightforward Italian menu and transforms it in to the same homogeneous, overworked stuff that typifies many of the North End restaurants. It had been a while, and I'd only eaten there once, but I had the impression that Marco was a no-BS Italian place that aimed for rustic, Italian-style stuff, not magazine-cover, Italian-American restaurant stuff. Oh well...
If you go with one of the Gilt coupons, bring a third (and maybe fourth) person, or be prepared for a doggy bag. It's a *lot* of food.