Friday, March 9, 2012

from humble origins

Peasant food from old country Italy that's a robust cornmeal mush, where hulled, crushed and coarse to fine grains are boiled to a paste with lots of butter, water, a pinch of salt and stirred gently with intention, cooked to a soft, creamy consistency. Yes, I'm talking about Polenta, a versatile starch which is a satisfying meal on its own, a base to layer sauces over and an excellent accompaniment to roasted or grilled meats and poultry. Typically heaped onto a bread board and served family style, the polenta stiffens as it cools and takes on a slightly firmer texture, though mushy still, a cross between fluffy mashed potatoes with gritty flecks and a soft gooey cornbread. It has since become a star on highly regarded menus, found on fancy dining room tables about town, a refined American take on an Italian classic that never hesitates to comfort, especially during the lingering mid-winter chill. Ristorante Lucia, one of the oldest and among the first to open in the North End in 1977 hosted a private dinner in honor of this rustic dish as it is prepared in the Abbruzo region of Italy, and in the interest of getting to know some of the local food community bloggers and writers.
The Polenta Party was held in the upstairs dining room, a clean brick walled space with painted ceilings where a large central table is flanked by smaller ones dressed in white linens. The Sangiovese flowed from the moment we sat down, I appreciated that the professional waitstaff were sure to top off our glasses frequently. Prefacing the polenta were antipasto plates layered with thinly sliced proscuitto and sopressato, thick squares of Auricchio provolone, roasted red peppers and spicy marinated eggplant. I adore a good antipasto to kick off an Italian meal, and this one was exceptional. So were the bruschettas that followed, where large slices of rustic country bread were grilled and brushed with olive oil, topped with truffle oil laced funghi and bitter broccoli rabe which had been sauteed with fresh garlic. This is incredibly simple food, the chef, owner and manager who dined with us were sure to point out. Modest as they were, I thought it was some of the most delicious and flavorful that I've tasted in the North End. Then it was time for overflowing plates of creamy golden yellow polenta, the first came topped with gamey rabbit meat still on the bone that had a sweet almost nutty flavor to it. While eating rabbit might seem unusual or exotic, it is a staple cuisine where Donato (the owner) comes from in Italy (Abruzzo) and there is nothing strange about it! The second plate was piled with a hearty pork chop and homemade sausage and the final plate (my favorite) a braised shortrib smothered in a smooth tomato sauce and sprinkled with fresh parsley and parmesan cheese. Dessert saw fresh brewed coffee, hazelnut cake that we drizzled in creme anglaise, and a duo of brisk, refreshing lemon and coconut sorbettos.
I liked that they offered us something entirely different than the typical tiramisu and cannoli! I had never had hazelnut cake, it was excellent. The presentation of the sorbetto was charming. By keeping it simple and allowing the high quality ingredients to shine, Lucia succeeds in impressing the majority of us, just as they have their regulars and newcomers alike for 35 years. I was so impressed in fact, that I plan to return this weekend with friends! An equally honest review as a paying customer is sure to follow. In the meantime, thanks to all who were instrumental in organizing this memorable dinner party. Besides the food and wine, I especially loved hearing about what my beloved neighborhood was like back-in-the-day from folks who have lived and worked here since the beginning. The North End has come so far since 1977 and nights like this make me incredibly proud to call it home. Updated 3/11/12 to add: I didn't photograph my meal this past Saturday night, instead relishing the company of my college roommates and friends. We were a party of 12 and our meals and service were nearly flawless. (I am always especially impressed when restaurants succeed at accommodating a large group.) Our waitress was not only knowledgeable and efficient, she was wonderful at her job and consistently on the ball. The food was comforting, traditional and reasonably priced. Definitely consider Lucia for your next North End meal!
Lucia Ristorante on Urbanspoon

24 comments:

Meghan said...

This is a beautiful post. The polenta party really was one of my favorite events ever.

Di said...

Just added this to the list of restaurants I need to go to. :) Great review!

Tracey said...

wow - what a great post, especially your description of making polenta!

Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic said...

I'm so bummed I missed this event (I had to cancel at the last minute because of work stuff) - and I missed hanging out with you! Hopefully we'll see each other soon. Oh and I love polenta, I definitely need to check out Lucia.

In and Around Town said...

Such a great post!! Your meal looks amazing - I need to check out Lucia :)

CoCo Wray said...

Sounds like a wonderful time, plus the food looks simply delicious!

Fun and Fearless in Beantown said...

Everytime I see photos of the meatballs and polenta, I drool a little bit. I keep kicking myself for not being able to attend this dinner!

Jennifurla said...

wow, what amazing eats. I just recently tried rabbit, and really enjoyed it.

Amber said...

that sounds like a great restaurant. I love places that keep their meals simple. I dont need fancy dishes, just good food.

Jenn Kendall said...

great post! sounds like an AMAZING meal!

Lin @ BeantownEats said...

Everything looks beautiful! Love the idea of broccoli rabe for bruschetta, instead of traditional tomatoes.

Hogger and Co. said...

A Polenta Party, how terrific. I've never even tried polenta, I don't think. And that broccoli bruschetta - wow, I'll keep this place in mind for this weekend when we go to the North End.

MelissaNibbles said...

Very well written post! It sounds delicious!

Corinne said...

I am really looking forward to dining here tomorrow night with you :)

I have to admit I have never attempted to make or eat polenta...definitely intrigued now!

Emily @ A Cambridge Story said...

Great review and, wow, do I want some polenta right now! It's a shame that I rely on those logs of polenta -- the creamy version is SO much better.

Megan said...

This was really a wonderful dinner. Simple, delicious food. Great company!

Claire Davis said...

The pictures look so delicious. I love polenta cakes. I once bought rabbit by mistake in Paris but didn't cook it! I might have missed out...

MOLLY GALLER said...

Wish I had been invited to this, I love polenta! This food looks fantastic. I am most definitely adding this restaurant to my "must-try" list! I love the presentation of the sorbet too.

Ameena said...

I am a huge fan of polenta...and I haven't had it in forever.

You get to eat the best things. I'm so jealous!

Hope you are having a great Sunday so far.

Jessica said...

Sounds like a wonderful restaurant! I love how the sorbet was presented in the fruit rinds.

Shannon said...

what a meal!! polenta is a new love of mine, and it's amazing how incredible it can be. definitely heading here soon :)

Jen said...

I've only tried one kind of Sangiovese, but I loved it!!

This food just looks so artistic and delicious.

Ché @ Knight at the Restaurant said...

Wow that meal looks amazing! I love polenta!

There are so many great places in the North End, it's always nice to hear which ones are the best.

Meesh said...

my all time favorite spot in the north end! i've never had a bad experience. polenta party, what a great idea!