My birthday falls a week after Valentines Day, just long enough where another (as opposed to a dual) celebration dinner is warranted. I feel lucky for this week, appreciating that I don't have to share my day with St. Valentine. However, I'll gladly share my day with the likes of Presidents Washington and Lincoln. Allowed a day off work in their honor, my birthday saw lot of quality couch time wrapped in my bathrobe, leg warmers and fuzzy slippers. To get out of the apartment for a leisurely dinner was a much needed recess.Last year Adam and I ventured to Cambridge to experience Craigie on Main but this year the frigid temps kept us close to home. My North End restaurant of choice was Prezza, one of many places I have wanted to dine at for awhile now, but had not yet had the opportunity.
Chef/owner Anthony Catuano opened Prezza in 2000 at 24 Fleet Street, a quiet side location towards the outer end of the neighborhood just off of bustling Hanover. The restaurant was named after the ancient Italian village where his grandmother was born, a tiny town where they cooked with the local provisions of the land. Referred to as the old-world peasant style of Italian cooking; focused on creating robust flavors and hearty portions from scratch, Prezza uses this as their base of inspiration. The menu is refined to incorporate foods of the Mediterranean regions as well as fresh seasonal ingredients.
The wine list is extensive and the page long martini menu was terribly hard to pass up. Knowing a red would serve me better overall, I settled on a glass of Casamatta Sangiovese ($8), but am absolutely returning to the bar to enjoy a Black Fig Martini ($12) sometime soon.
We were started off with thick slices of bread served in an eye catching abstract tin, and just as Adam was noting his olive craving, fresh olives and oil accompanied.
The appetizer choices are robust, all of them set at a $15 price point. This is no bargain, however, I found the price to be reasonable based on our appetizer of choice. It was an easy decision for us to share the Wood Grilled Squid and Octopus ($15). You really can't go wrong with wood grilled, and stemming from a trip to Greece in 2007, octopus has long been a favorite Mediterranean delicacy.The plate lies full of coils of squid and long tentacles of octopus in a light red sauce that served to compliment the wood grilled sea creatures without masking their beauty. The squid was briny and chewy, very tender with a smooth texture, while the octopus is tougher in comparison with its gristly tentacles and more delicate flavor. Braised white beans blend nicely in the sauce and toasted parsley accents the flavors.Extremely pleased with our first course, I'd definitely recommend this appetizer if you are a squid or octopus fan, or even if you are a first-timer looking to branch out.Veering slightly off the beaten path, forgoing the route of a standard entree, I was in the mood for soup. Being that it was 10 degrees outside, the Mushroom Soup ($12) beckoned to me with promises of porcini cream, white beans, roasted tomato and grilled bread. This was the only soup on the menu so I assumed it would be really good, especially at a $12 price point.My instinctual cravings did not steer me wrong. First of all, the portion was exceedingly substantial. A large bowl serving an elegant blend of roasted tomato and porcini cream garnered a rich and flavorful base. Mouthfuls of hearty mushrooms in every bite, warm and earthy, slippery in texture while diverse in shape and size, were balanced by the smooth and ever so versatile white bean. This soup was pure joy by the spoonful.
Two slices of crispy toast delicately balancing atop them a mountain of fresh grated Parmesan cheese laced with pops of parsley were the finishing touch. I allowed them to melt into the soup, becoming softer bites as they soaked up the hearty broth.
Adam feasted on the Crispy Pork Chop ($26) with vinegar peppers, potatoes, roasted red onions and red wine sauce. The bone in pork chop was huge and perfectly cooked. The vinegar peppers were what made the dish in Adam's opinion. Once I took a bite, I had to agree, pungent red and yellow peppers were a stellar accompaniment. I was full and content after the bread, appetizer and soup course, but upon placing my order opted in for the Ravioli di Ouvo ($10). I appreciated our waiters candid tips, he let me know this is "one giant ravioli" and suggested I might want to order two. I declined the second but felt good about being thoroughly informed on the fact that only one ravioli was going to be served. Could you imagine expecting a plate full only to your complete surprise, getting this:This jumbo rav was about six bites, stuffed with ricotta and an intact egg yolk tossed in a brown butter and sage sauce with shaved Parmigiano. Our waiter was prompt to offer fresh cracked pepper, which I accepted. Cutting into the ravioli, as you can imagine, was a feast in itself for the eyes. The brown butter with its complex nutty taste and crispy sage marrying the velvety egg yolk, was amazing. Admittedly, I wished for a thicker more doughy ravioli as I felt the amount of pasta wasn't as substantial compared to the intensity of the yolk and amount of sauce it was bathing in. I was too full to lap up the excess with any bread, but was content to scrape the plate, draping fork fulls into my mouth. Overall, I imagine this is a difficult dish to perfect, and I was still pleased with the outcome.
The concept at Prezza is one that customers can easily embrace, celebratory meal or not. While relatively expensive, they serve large portions of creative-without-being-overly-complicated dishes (besides the anomaly that is the Ravioli di Ouvo) in a refined and modern atmosphere. The ambiance is that of a dimly lit room done in neutral colors, with a long chestnut brown bar area surrounded by a dining room boasting white linen tablecloths backed by beige booths. Giving tasteful hints of color through art are unique statement pieces that line the walls. Featuring homemade pasta, a wood grill that is fired up daily and an extensive wine and cocktail list, be sure to detour off the main drag and visit them on your next trip to the North End!