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RW: Marco Cucina Romana, 8/17/2007

Dr.Jimbob | Aug 20, 200702:33 PM

My wife and I decided to try a place that hasn't gotten a lot of reviews or discussion on this group for our final dinner of RW. Marco Cucina Romana, for those of you who don't know, is the second joint started by Marco Orfaly of Pigalle fame. It's on the second floor of a grand storefront on Hanover Street, with a sports bar on the 1st floor.

We made an OpenTable reservation and walked up the stairs to the second floor to the restaurant. Service was excellent, we were greeted graciously, seated quickly and served efficiently throughout the meal. The bread was a foccacia-like bread with a heavenly olive oil served straight up as the dip along with a tasty eggplant and olive tapenade served up in a palm-sized enameled cast iron pot (aww, how cute). For the wine we ordered a Rubesco 2004, from Lungarotti, a Sangiovese/Canaiolo blend which had plenty of nice fruit up front and a dry-ish finish (just as the waitress accurately described it). Went handsomely with the dishes on order.

My primi was the grilled antipasto with toasted crostini and parmesan. The crostini were a crunchy dried out Tuscan white bread, the parmesan shavings were of a high quality and the antipasti were a mix of grilled vegetables. Not bad, though I'm beginning to learn how to do these on my charcoal grill at home, and not finding that this was taken far beyond what I can do on my own at home. My wife fared better with her starter, an utterly evil gorgonzola stuffed inside a ripe mission fig and wrapped with nicely browned prosciutto. She thought the gorgonzola was a bit overwhelming, but I got a few chews where the mix of piquant, sweet and salty (with fat all around) blended wonderfully. Will have to try doing this myself some time (though I do wonder how they injected the gorgonzola in the fig!).

It was my wife's turn for disappointment with the secondi. The eggplant parmesan featured dried thin sheets of eggplant in place of a pasta sheet. Clever enough, but unfortunately, given that untreated eggplant doesn't taste like much of anything (especially in a very thin sheet), the dish was fine, above average as lasagnas go, but nothing earth-shattering or ethereal. I made off well with this one, with a truffle and mushroom risotto ($2 was added to the check for this entree). The dish arrived redolent with the earthy reek of truffles, and that same smell perfused all of the rice. The mushrooms were big generous chunks of shiitake and (I think) oyster mushrooms, and by leaving the caps largely intact (I usually chop mine up when I make my risottos), they also provided an interesting texture contrast with the creamy rice. Chunks of carrot betrayed the mire poix base at the heart of the risotto, which was solid, turned spectacular by the truffles. The dish left quite a tail also -- I was still getting aftershocks from this dish an hour later as I was heading home.

Dessert for my wife was a stack of biscotti. In the midst of some fairly strong, rich flavors this came up as something of a disappointment, again dipping well enough into the biscotti but not standing above and beyond any of hundreds of other biscotti that we've had in the past. She stashed a few to take home, and the next day a subtle extra element came out, a stronger hint of anise than in the usual biscotti. My dessert was an espresso panna cotta, basically, the best damn coffee pudding I've ever had.

With wine, tax and tip, the bill for two came up to about $150. About par for the course for RW, but I was left with a distinctly ambivalent feel about this place. Some of the dishes are quite inspired, with a powerhouse flavor profile. Others feature a very subtle twist on a cherished classic, but I fear that the twist is not inspired enough to justify the high price tag that goes with the meal. I would definitely get the truffle risotto and the panna cotta if I was there again, but I think for great Italian, there are better alternatives in town (not least of which is Grotto:

253 Hanover St., 2nd Flr., Boston, MA 02113

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