Sunday, March 12, 2006

Restaurant Week Part I: Mamma Maria


In the past, Boston Restaurant Week only took place in the summer to drive tourists and those not fortunate enough to have summer homes into participating restaurants for a very appealing and affordable 3-course dinner. But this year, they decided to do it in the winter as well which turned out great for me because it just happened to be the week leading up to my birthday. Jackpot! So I had the pleasure of enjoying two wonderful dinners out with two great friends, Lisa and Carla.

Restaurant Week Reviews:
Mamma Maria, North End, Boston
Tangierino, Charlestown (for Review, see "Restaurant Week: Tangierino")

Last Tuesday, Lisa and I went to Mamma Maria in the North End. I had been wanting to go to this restaurant for a long time. It looks so charming from the outside and I had heard it was very good. Lisa and I were instantly smitten. They offer valet parking and Lisa is from the 'burbs so this is a huge plus in her book. The interiors of Mamma Maria are absolutely beautiful. It's really a large home and feels like one inside. If you've ever been to L'Espalier in Boston, Mamma Maria is similar but not as formal. White tablecloths, tasteful paintings, a view out onto North Square and Paul Revere's House, and a very Martha Stewart color palette (neutral organic tones). Many of the North End restaurants are small and cozy but sometimes a little too cramped. Mamma Maria has many rooms throughout the restaurant/house so it feels intimate yet comfortable and spacious. The acoustics are excellent as well. As the number of people in the room increased, the noise level didn't. I was amazed. The service was excellent with little niceties like re-folding your napkin and putting it at your place setting when you step away from the table. And the food...

Since it was Restaurant Week, the main menu was a three-course prix fixe dinner. In the past I found those menus a bit limiting but Mamma Maria offered plenty of selections for each course. However, if you couldn't find something you liked, they allowed you to order off the regular menu (at regular prices) which was nice. I found plenty of interest on the prix fixe menu and ordered quite a lovely meal:

For the appetizer (antipasti):
Wellfleet oysters baked with a Champagne zabaglione and crispy leeks.
This was a huge appetizer (for me to say this means it was really huge) with about a 1/2 dozen oysters. 3 was more than enough for me as they were very rich. The most pleasant surprise was the crispy leeks. They tasted like a cross between an very thin onion ring and french fry. Nothing wrong with that.

For the entree (principalli):
Freshly made papardelle pasta with slow-roasted Sonoma rabbit, pancetta and fresh rosemary
(sorry Carol - my sister has pet rabbits). The slow-roasting comes through loud and clear in this dish as the rabbit meat just falls apart. A very hearty dish.

For dessert (Dolci):
Espresso panna cotta with burnt caramel sauce and warm biscotti.
Wow. This was so much more delicious than I had expected. The espresso flavor really made the dessert. Didn't even need the biscotti.

Lisa ordered off the prix fixe menu and was equally pleased:

For the appetizer (antipasti):
Creamy “small farm” buffalo mozzarella from Naples with tarragon pesto and cracked black pepper.
This cheese reminded us of the mozzarella we had eaten at a restaurant in New York that was so good we though it should be illegal. Smoother and creamier than your average mozzarella.

For the entree (principalli):
Lobster-filled pasta tortelli with grilled asparagus and smoked pancetta.
As you can imagine, this was wonderful. The homemade pasta makes a huge difference because it is so much lighter than dried pasta and pairs with the lobster perfectly.

For dessert (Dolci):
Sweet toasted coconut bread with chocolate sauce and coconut gelato.
Lisa and I both love anything coconuty and this was no exception. The coconut flavor in the coconut bread was much more subtle than in the coconut gelato which we preferred.

Grazie, Lisa!!


Mamma Maria
3 North Square, North End, Boston, 617.523.0077
www.mammamaria.com

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