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RW: Grotto, 8/3/2007

Dr.Jimbob | Aug 3, 200707:35 PM

Grotto is celebrating Restaurant Week a little early by offering the prix fixe starting this past Wednesday 8/1 and extending it through 8/18. The menu turns out to be their standard three course prix fixe, with a dollar shaved off of the price, but my wife and a friend and I were treated nonetheless to one of the best RW meals that we've had. (For details on the Grotto menu, go to Their RW menu is pretty close to identical, sans sides.)

The bread was a focaccia with some of the tastiest olive oil I've had in a while. No fancy spreads, no weird vinegar accents, just fruity and lemony and acidy goodness that doesn't need any tarting up. The wine selections included a RW special sangria a la Grotto which was the perfect thing for a hot sticky summer night -- not too sweet, just the right tartness and bubbliness and icy coolness. We wound up splitting two pitchers even though we didn't really need the second one.

For the primi, we got the baby spinach salad with roasted beets, spiced walnuts, goat cheese and a raspberry vinaigrette. It's a standard spinach salad, but the beets were roasted to perfection -- just the right hint of sweet, not cloying and no hint of dirt and matched beautifully with all the other parts. Then there was the tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, avocado, basil, EVOO and cold tomato consomme. This variation on the insalata caprese was masterly, with tomato and mozzarella slices stacked into two pretty little towers (or multi decker sandwiches) and the avocado adding an unexpected richness to the standard caprese. The Florence style pate, fresh cherries, lavender honey and EVOO-grilled country bread was the star of the primi though -- chicken liver pate whipped to creamy perfection and playing beautifully off of the cherries, making this the most inspired variation of peanut butter and jelly we've ever had. We wound up using leftover focaccia to leave this plate clean enough to use again.

The secondi were no less yummy. I was tempted to go with the gnocchi and short ribs which I remember being divine, but I was sure glad to wind up getting the tagliatelle with lobster ragu instead. The tagliatelle were lovely homemade pasta, though oddly I found myself liking the al dente chew at Sagra just a tad more (not sure if this is a RW churn-it-out issue or something bigger). I would never have picked out a tomato based red sauce to go with chunks of lobster, and I thought at times it overwhelmed the shellfish's delicate flavor, but my two companions loved every spoonful that they stole off my plate. My wife's grilled beef tenderloin, Reggiano risotto, grilled asparagus and red wine jus was perfection -- beautifully charred exterior to the meat, lovely soft pink and red rare interior, paired memorably with the shavings of Reggiano cheese and transformed into another plane with the addition of the risotto. Our third had the bacon wrapped apple stuffed duck breast (yes you read that right, winds up coming off like a little bite of sausage heaven), crispy duck leg (crispy to be sure, but oh so tender meat inside), Reggiano potatoes (something of an understatement -- really more like a creative take on potatoes dauphinoise, with slices of bacon and prosciutto to add an extra special salty something to an already classic dish), dried cherries, black truffle aioli and Madeira wine sauce (our friend didn't share this part of the dish, it was way too good).

For the dolci, we wound up with the melting chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream (a semi-molten pool of intense dark chocolate evil), the banana bread pudding with caramel ice cream and walnuts (another home run blend of sweetness, creaminess and carameliness) and the lemon semifreddo, raspberry sauce, crispy lemon cookie and lemon zabaglione (which in the Friday night heat melted into a single lovely sweet-and-sour cool and refreshing concoction). Espresso was expectably good and my wife didn't warm to the limoncello, but I loved the mix of sweetness, sourness and alcohol intensity.

With a few pitchers of sangria, a few bottles of Pellegrino, some coffees and a drink, the bill mounted rapidly (we wound up at about $70 a head, after tax and tip), but we walked away ecstatically fat and happy, pleased with the food, pleased with the setting and pleased with the very friendly, capable service. I think this may be the best meal I've had in a RW context, the first time that each of nine dishes ranged from extremely good to astonishing, and Grotto is jumping rapidly to the front of the line for my favorite of Italian restaurants in the Boston area. As the write-up above suggests, they're not enslaved to the straight Italian line, but the creative twists are quite interesting without ever losing sight of the roots that hold it all together. A wonderful meal, and one I look forward to having again once RW is over.

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