>> Wednesday, June 23, 2010
When Bryan and I were planning our honeymoon to Italy, we prepared by learning a few key Italian phrases. Certain phrases became invaluable, such as scuzi (excuse me), grazi (thank you), and, most importantly, quanta costa? (how much does it cost?)
Another nuance we soon picked up was the difference between the words ristorante and trattoria.
Trattorias are typically casual, family-run restaurants that serve an ever-changing menu of seasonal, locally produced dishes. They are more rustic, cozy, and typically much less expensive.
Ristorantes are more prevalent in large cities, and are typically more sophisticated, upscale, and expensive. They often provide dishes with pricier ingredients, like seafood, for example.
After our first dinner at a ristorante in Rome where we spent upwards of $100 USD, we quickly learned that trattorias were the way to go. The rest of our meals in Rome cost, on average, about $25 USD for both of us (and that included gratuity, bottled water, and wine!). Admitted, Italy was still on the lira back then so we took great advantage of the strong exchange rate. The best thing is, there’s so much excellent food in Italy, it’s hard to go wrong, even if you pick the cheaper, more rustic trattorias. Italians are quite serious about their food. Furthermore, they have the added bonus of access to amazing local produce.
In the US, the distinction between the terms ristorante and trattoria seem to have largely evaporated. I’ve seen trattorias that cost an arm and a leg, and places called "ristorantes" that almost look like hole-in-the-walls. There are even restaurants called “Ristorante Trattoria.”
Despite all that, there are still some Italian restaurants in America that stay true to this form. One example would be the Monica restaurants in the North End, Boston.
Monica’s Trattoria is one of our favorite restaurants in the North End. The more casual cousin of its upscale counterpart, Vinoteca di Monica (which, until they remodeled not to long ago, used to be called Monica's Restaurant), Monica’s Trattoria serves up fresh salads, beautifully rustic bruschettas, and fantastic homemade pasta dishes.
Brothers Jorge, Patrick, and Frank Mendoza-Iturralde oversee these three North End businesses, all named after their mother, Monica. There’s the swanky and sophisticated Vinoteca di Monica, a beautiful restaurant on Richmond Street that serves fantastic upscale Italian food. The place is huge, complete with a full bar and tons of wait staff. There’s also the cute and authentic Italian grocery store, Monica’s Mercato, which sells, among other things, fresh homemade pasta, homemade sauces, and other Italian goods.
Finally, there’s Trattoria di Monica. Unlike its sophisticated cousin who has a huge space and sleek décor, Trattoria di Monica has exposed brick walls, only 2 or 3 servers, and at most ten tables, scrunched together so tightly you feel as if you are sitting at the same table as the people next to you.
The atmosphere is loud, lively, and festive. And the food? Fantastic.
Bruschetta all’Italiana $9
Grilled bread, tomatoes, basil, garlic & extra virgin olive oil
I love the bruschettas at all of the Monica establishments. They are all made the same way. The bread is slathered in olive oil and grilled, giving it that beautifully slightly burnt and crunchy edge that I love. They vary in toppings, but I love them all. This particular one, heirloom tomatoes, fresh creamy mozzarella, and a touch of balsamic vinegar, was an absolutely perfect way to start the meal.
Involtini di Prosciutto e Provolone al Forno $10
Baked prosciutto wrapped provolone over tomato slices & roasted red pepper
This is Bryan’s favorite appetizer, and he always orders it whenever he comes here. It’s cheesy, smoky, and rich full of bold flavors.
Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage $24
On any given night there will be many specials from which to choose. This squash gnocchi special was perfect. I loved how the sweet butternut squash gnocchi paired with the slightly bitter broccoli rabe and the smoky sausage. In the past I’ve thought that the gnocchi at Monica’s was a little mushy, but this time I thought it was perfect with just the right amount of bite.
Homemade Papardelle with Veal and Spicy Tomato Sauce $25
Oh, did I mentioned that all of their pastas are homemade? Bryan’s homemade parpardelle has excellent texture, with those little nooks and crannies full of sauce. Speaking of which, the spicy tomato sauce was rustic and full of that deep tomato flavor. The veal was tender and well cooked.
If you haven’t figured it out already, we really love this place. Unlike Vinoteca di Monica, whose menu has a variety of appetizers, pastas, salads, and meat dishes, this place is really focused on pasta. As you know, fresh pasta is one of Bryan’s favorite foods, so this works out great for him.
Their pasta menu is actually significantly more extensive than even the pasta selection at Vinoteca di Monica. However, the prices, at least for the pasta dishes, are rather comparable between the two places (low to mid twenties). What ends up making Vinoteca more expensive is that their meat entrée dishes start to approach the $30 range. Here at the trattoria, there are no main meat entrées.
So, if you love fresh homemade pastas made with bold, flavorful, and rustic sauces, definitely check this place out!
Reminder, it's still not too late to enter the Effie's Oatcakes and Corncakes Giveaway. "Drawing" will be TONIGHT (Thursday, June 24, 2010) at midnight!
67 Prince St
Boston, MA 02113