Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Little Taste of Italy in Boston

For Christmas, Mr. ValleyWriter planned a trip to Boston for us, with a stay at the Hyatt Regency and tickets to see the late show of Blue Man Group. He also said he wanted to take me to dinner in the North End (the "Little Italy" of Boston), but he left the restaurant choosing up to me. After a couple of weeks of reading some Bostoner blogs and online reviews, I decided to give Marco a try.

Marco is owned by Chef Marc Orfaly, who was a 2004 Food & Wine "Best New Chef" and who also owns Pigalle, a famous French restaurant in Boston's theater district. Marco is a small bistro restaurant with only about 10 tables and a small bar in a 2nd floor space that overlooks Hanover Street. The exposed brick walls and classic brownstone fireplace add to the cozy bistro feeling.

When we walked in, we were greeted right away and our coats were taken and checked. We were seated a table near the windows overlooking Hanover Street, but couldn't quite see down to the street below. If we go back to Marco, I'd make a point to ask for a window seat so we could do a little people watching :-)

We arrived right at the height of dinner service, so our server was busy and took some time to get to our table. When she did stop by, I was honestly very surprised to see her dressed in a "Marco" T-shirt and jeans. I got the impression from the reviews and the menu that Marco was a little nicer than jeans & a T-shirt, so I was a little concerned at this point as to what we were in for. But, as they say, you can't judge a book by its cover, so I put my concerns in the back of my head and decided to keep an open mind.

We started with a couple of glasses of wine and the house rosemary foccacia with olive oil. The foccacia was a little dry by itself, but that made it perfect for soaking up the light olive oil. We then moved on to the prosciutto and melon appetizer. The plate came with a beautiful thin sheet of prosciutto covering the botttom, topped with canteloupe, honeydew melon, and ricotta salada and parmigiano cheese slices. The melon was the perfect complement to the slightly salty prosciutto and parmigiano. And the ricotta salad was a nice creamy finish on the palate.

For dinner, Mr. ValleyWriter ordered the rigatoni with pork meatballs in a chunky tomato sauce. I had the riccioli with parmesan and chunky tomato sauce. Marco offers 1/2 size portions of all of their pastas, so we both ordered just the 1/2 size, knowing we wanted to leave room for some North End pastries for dessert. The food was incredible and the portions were just perfect. Mr. ValleyWriter's pork meatballs were juicy and well-spiced and the pasta sauce was fresh and balanced. My riccioli was smooth and thick, but not too dense. My sauce was the same as Mr. ValleyWriter's, again fresh and balanced.

We finished up with a couple of espressos before heading down Hanover Street to Mike's Pastry. With nearly 50 people packed into a small storefront, you knew walking up that this place had to be good. We muscled our way to the counter and tried to quickly choose from the seemingly endless array of cannolis, cheesecakes, Italian cookies, rum cakes and cream puffs. Mr. ValleyWriter chose a cannoli with chocolate chips and I opted for a slice of chocolate chip cheesecake. There was really no place left to sit and we figured we could use a few more minutes to digest dinner, so we got our desserts to-go and brought them back to the hotel room to have during our wait for showtime.

When we finally dove in, I was amazed at how light and creamy the chocolate chip cheesecake was. I guess I've gotten used to heavy, dense cheesecakes, but this was much lighter and incredible smooth. In addition to tiny chocolate chips scattered throughout the cheesecake, it was also topped with a rich, smooth chocoalte ganache. Mike's cannoli filling was equally light and smooth, with just the right amount of sweetness blended in.

All in all, I had an incredible Boston eating experience. My only suggestion - Marc Orfaly - change your servers' dress code. When I'm a little dressed up and enjoying an incredible meal in a cozy little bistro, having my server in a T and jeans with her hair in a careless pony is a bit of a mood-killer. It wouldn't put me off going to Marco again, but it would be nice....

Thanks for an incredible weekend Mr. ValleyWriter!


Mama Chicken said...

omg! I LOVE the North End. Cannolis on every corner... it's like a dream!

Justine said...

i went to mikes last weekend: nothing like it!