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Monica's in the North End: fine but needs more flavor at this price point (long)

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Monica's in the North End: fine but needs more flavor at this price point (long)

rlh | Jan 20, 2006 11:13 AM

Business dinner for six last night at Monica's on Richmond was a solid but not impressive choice -- I would not choose to return there on my own dime (or again on an expense account, actually). I more fully understand why Monica's doesn't appear on my Control-F search of this and a number of earlier boards.

The room is spartan -- no tablecloths, NO buzz, and generic pop background music (though not too loud or intrusive).

The service was good -- gracious and immediate seating (the were about half full last night) -- professional attentiveness combined with a very thick, authentic-sounding Italian accent, but no genuine warmth or interest on the server's part, and his knowledge/opinions of the wine list and menu were limited.

The wine list is a broad selection from ONLY Italy and the markups appeared reasonable. We settled on a Sicilian Primitivo in the mid-$30s that was fine. The bread and olive oil was fresh and good (but not memorable), and replenished as necessary throughout the evening.

The menu was inviting, the food looked good on the plates, and did seem to be comprised of fresh ingredients, HOWEVER, the consitent and disappointing theme of the meal was "WHERE'S THE FLAVOR"?

The mussel appetizer had HUGE ("Stony Island, MA") mussels in a vaguely-smoked, salty tomato broth (no garlic in spite of the menu description and "fresh herbs" seemed to mean chopped flat parsley throughout the meal) that was left untouched (vs. being immediately soaked up and consumed on bread -- a la Central Kitchen moules frites, for example).

The daily "special" antipasto was very average cold cuts (like fresh slices from Shaw's or Costco you might buy for an Italian sub to be made at home -- not choices from the more-interesting options in the Salumeria next door or other nearby venues), some flavorless proscuitto, some chicken liver paste, and a couple of random sweet compotes/relishes (onion and berry-based). The involtini appetizer was much too small to be shared, so no comment on that.

The "all homemade" pastas here are priced like entrees at $17-$27 with no sides included and half portions not offered -- given the "homemade option", everyone had pasta and no one (of six) tried the main courses ($22-$30). What was served seemed closer to half-portion size by US standards -- no one had any leftovers to take home or noted being stuffed.

I think it would be better for their economics and know we'd be much more satisfied if they priced their homemade pasta lower for even smaller portions and encouraged having an entree as well?

This does mildly interest me in the relatively low-risk option of trying the more casual sibling "Trattoria" nearby to see if the same (good) homemade pasta is served at the lower prices there and accompanied by more flavor.

The rigatoni with rabe and "homemade sausage" and the chicken/herb tortelloni were both noted to be too small and again -- fresh but without really noticeable flavor. My lobster ravioli was six large pieces pretty chock-full of lobster meat in an attractive rich yellow pool of "lobster reduction" sauce -- sadly, it also suffered from severe flavor reduction.

We were still hungry, so we opted to try desserts -- very creamy tiramisu, flourless chocolate torta, and fig bread pudding with butterscotch sauce. Consistent with the rest of the meal -- you guessed it -- they seemed fresh and were well-composed/nice-looking, but were missing any distinctive flavor.

Lesson learned: after this and a recent lackluster Bricco experience (except their stellar bread pudding dessert!), when facing the choice, think I'll be limiting North End dining to the favorites noted on this board until further notice (Neptune, Carmen, Regina, Prezza?, Daily Catch? and maybe even sneaking Grotto in since it's not that far removed...).

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