Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dante — Enjoy the View

Dante, a relatively new dining spot in Cambridge, offers some of the best "eye candy" in town. Not only does it provide outdoor seating with some of the best views of Boston and the Charles River (much of the indoor seating has great views as well), but it also serves up some of the most attractive and whimsical dishes that inspire you to take a moment and admire them before diving in.

For dinner, we decided to order all appetizers instead of entrées for two reasons: a) so we could try and share a bunch of things; and b) because the entrées were a little pricey for what we had in mind that evening.

I have read a couple of reviews that say the menu items are too whimsical and hard to understand. I say those writers need to relax. The menu is fun and perfectly easy to understand. One side of the menu is all "tasting" size appetizers and the other side is dedicated to salads and entrées. It ain't rocket science. Seems Chef Dante de Magistris does not take himself too seriously which is a plus in my book.
They group the appetizers into 3 categories:
"play pen" - twists on classics like the New England clambake and escargot
"raw" - oysters, tuna tartar, etc.
"pasta" - self explanatory

Perhaps it's this "play pen" category that gets under people's skin but whatever. Lighten up people.

I started off with the Escargot. The dish it was served in was classic. The preparation was anything but. The escargot were bathed in truffle-whipped potato spuma, candied lemon and garlicky crumbs. It was absolutely amazing. Luckily I only had to share one because everyone at the table had "Ew. Snails." written all over their faces. As my mother always says "Mais Para Mim!" (more for me).

My friend, Brian (who made it clear he wanted to be credited in this review after I omitted him from my Toro review), ordered the Mini Lobster Clambake which included an andouille sausage corn dog, roasted lobster, local clams with a fennel reduction. He enjoyed it but when I prodded him for specifics, his response was simply "Good. Small." But trust me, if he didn't like it, we would have heard about it all night. He neglected to share so we'll have to trust his judgment.

From the "raw" menu, Kristie and Jeff ordered the Flash Seared Tuna and the Mediterranean Tuna Tartar. The Flash Seared Tuna was prepared with egg white frittata, sesame seaweed, avocado and baby greens. A really nice combination of flavors and textures as you can imagine from the list. Definitely give this one a try. The Tuna Tartar was served with capers, olives, arugula, olive oil and an artichoke chip - a Mediterranean party in your mouth.

We ordered two of the pasta appetizers. The first was the Handmade Spaghetti "a la Guitarra," prepared with Maine crab, guanciale (similar to Italian pancetta), sweet peas and lemony crumbs. Aside from the Escargot, that may have been my favorite dish of the evening. I loved the lightness of the crab and lemony crumbs combined with the smoky but not overwhelming taste of the guanciale. It inspired me to make a similar dish a few nights later. The second pasta we ordered was the Potato Gnocchi, with gorgonzola dolce, roasted peaches, speck (smoked Italian ham) and pistachio pesto. I think the words "This peach is outstanding" came out of minimalistic food commentator Brian. I liked the change from the traditional pine nut pesto to the pistachio. And how can you go wrong with gorgonzola dolce, a wonderful complement to the peaches. Great pastas. Order them both.

The dessert may have been the highlight of the night - Beignets sprinkled with confectioners sugar served with 4 dipping sauces - chocolate, raspberry, anise/licorice and apricot. First of all, the presentation was beautiful (see picture above). And the beignets were served warm - a HUGE plus. The dipping sauces were delicious (we allowed for double-dipping they were so good). The crowd favorite was to dip in chocolate then raspberry. Least favorite was the anise/licorice-flavored sauce but it was tasty and gave the dish the nod to Italy it needed.

In terms of cocktails, they offer many creative options. I had the Passion Fruit Sangria which was refreshing and could be dangerous because it goes down quite easily. Highly recommend. They also offer many Italian classics such as Prosecco, Belinis and Campari Grapefruit. Ask for a cocktail menu so you can peruse the options.

I have to say that the service was really slow although our waitress and the busboys were very friendly. In fact (and to me this redeemed any lapse in service), they brought these warm, fuzzy wraps out for the ladies because it was a chilly evening. How amazing is that?! I was freezing so having the wrap really enabled me to relax, enjoy myself and gaze across the river at the stunning city view.

Royal Sonesta Hotel (across from the Cambridgeside Galleria Mall)
40 Edwin Land Boulevard
Cambridge, 617-497-4200
Open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner


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