>> Tuesday, August 27, 2013
I've always thought there was a shortage of really good Italian restaurants in Cambridge. Sure, there's Rialto if you're looking for something really upscale, or the numerous (and solid) pizzerias in the area, such as Armando's, Area Four, Emma's, and Otto (just to name a few favorites).
But what about something in between? What about the type of neighborhood restaurant that offers simple but well executed pasta dishes, grilled meats and fish, and a warm and relaxing environment in which to enjoy it all? I think we have a shortage of places like that. Case in point: we almost always head out to Boston when we want Italian.
It's reasons like these that current Italian newcomers to Cambridge, such as Giulia in the Harvard/Porter area or Toscano in Harvard Square, are always insanely busy.
And then I found out about Posto.
I'd sort of heard of Posto before. Friends of mine who live in Davis Square told me their pizza was fantastic. We even tried going once, but unluckily showed up on the day of a private party, and thus were reluctantly turned away.
What I didn't know, is that it's not just a "pizzeria and a wine bar."
Far from it, in fact.
Just a couple months ago, the owner of Posto, Joseph Cassinelli, took a bold step in hiring several key people to really make some major changes in his restaurants (Posto and The Painted Burro). He hired Alec Riveros (pictured above) to become the Director of Operations. Riveros was previously general manager of Menton, where he helped open the highest-end restaurant Boston had ever seen from the ground up in 2010.
Cassinelli also hired Chef Wyatt Maguire, previously Executive Sous Chef at Menton, to become Executive Chef of Posto. Vanessa Leesam (pictured at right) is the sous chef.
I was delighted to accept an invitation to try out Chef Maguire's new menu debut at Posto. I was excited for a number of reasons. First, we love Italian food, and the idea of having a Menton-trained chef designing the menu at a restaurant near our home (where there's a general shortage of Italian restaurants) was intriguing, to say the least.
Second, even though it's technically in Somerville, I feel like it's in my backyard because it's really close! Tucked between Porter and Davis Square, Bryan and I could (and did!) walk to the restaurant from home - another huge plus.
Finally, we were excited to see Alec again. We had met him a few times dining at Menton and he's just great. We knew the restaurant could only benefit with him in charge.
Below I've detailed our special tasting of various menu items. Please keep in mind that the portions shown below are smaller than an actual portion on the menu. We were given tasting portions, whereas the portions on the menu are either appetizer or entree portions. So don't be too alarmed when you see an "entree" type price and then the picture shows just a tiny bit of food!
Our meal began with Pane ($2.50)- freshly baked rosemary sea salt bread. It reminded me of pizza dough (it very well might be, actually). It was warm, slightly chewy, and actually had very good flavor.
These were accompanied with Olivas ($5) - warm olives with hints of orange, rosemary, and arbol chile. These were definitely high quality olives, and I enjoyed them as they took the edge off of my hunger at the beginning of the meal.
The wine program is currently being managed by Alec Riveros himself. He has a deep interest in wine and has had a lot of fun revamping it. We tried bunch of interesting wines that evening, all of which were from Piedmont, Italy.
Our first starter was the Fritto ($11), a fried green tomato served with fennel salad and buttermilk dressing. I love fried green tomatoes, and this one was very good.
Our salad was Barbabietola ($13), which consisted of a gorgeous array of baby beets (both red beets and the colorful striped chiogga beets), Sicilian pistachio, and feta cheese tossed in an orange vinaigrette. The ingredients were fresh and the combination of flavors - the classic duo of beets with feta - worked well.
The next salad, simply called Mozzarella ($14), included thin slices of prosciutto, super ripe white peach slices, and a rosemary honey on top of the fresh mozzarella cheese. It's a sweeter, juicier take on a classic insalata caprese, and it's delicious. They definitely use high quality ingredients in this salad (very important), and it shows.
And then the pasta courses began to arrive.
All of their pastas are handmade (yay!). We tried the Tortellini ($19), which is filled with Maine crab meat, radishes, and sweet pea brodo. It's finished with a Parmesan crema and topped with seasonal carrot shavings and carrot greens. I loved this dish, especially its focus on seasonal vegetables. It had just the right amount of substance without feeling too heavy.
Bryan was a huge fan of the homemade Gnocchi ($18), which came with chunks of melt-in-your-mouth soft lamb braised in white wine and vidalia onions. A light topping of pecorino Toscano completed the dish.
Since he and I were sort of sharing the above two dishes, each of us was perfectly happy to finish the one we liked more: I ate the rest of the tortellini, and he happily polished off the gnocchi.
The Trota ($22) is not for the squeamish eater. A whole rainbow trout is served with the head. The inside of the fish is cleaned out and filled with kale, Marcona almonds, and marrow. Our version was a small version of this dish so you sort of lose the effect, but I've seen photos online of the full thing, and it's quite a sight to behold. I found this dish to be OK - simple and fresh, but nothing particularly exciting.
We tried a taste of their Yellow Tomato Risotto, which is currently not being served alone, but instead as an accompaniment to the Swordfish entree.
It was sweet, beautifully bright and vivid (clearly made from uber sweet in-season tomatoes), and had that perfect consistency of being just a bit runny, but still creamy.
Looking at the food we just ate, you may almost forget that we are actually at a restaurant that has the words "Pizzeria" in its name.
Did I already say Posto is not your typical pizzeria?
Posto is the only restaurant in New England that has been certified by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana ("VPN"). The non-profit organization certifies pizza makers around the world who comply with a list of strict standards for making a true, authentic Neapolitan style pizza. Requirements include things like using San Marzano tomatoes, 00 flour, only kneading with your hands, and very stringent size and baking temperature requirements.
According to Alec, the inspectors visit anonymously once a year and then send you the bill after they've come and left.
We had a chance to try a variety of different pizzas. Pictured above is the Caponata ($17), which is topped with eggplant, goat cheese, tomato conserva, cured grapes, and pine nuts.
The Salsiccia ($17) has fennel sausage, whipped ricotta, and a pistachio nut pesto.
The fun summer Mais ($17) pizza consists of sweet corn, fontina, applewood bacon, grape tomato, and basil puree.
The classic Marinara ($11) has sliced garlic, oregano, and Parmesan cheese.
We were so stuffed at this point, but we couldn't pass up the delicious Panna Cotta with lemon basil, strawberry, and shortbread crumble.
The classic Tiramisu was also very good. Simple, but delicious (why mess with something that's already perfect?).
Finally, for our after dinner drink, we had a very unusual and unique drink. It was a Damilano Barolo Chinato - an aromatized dessert wine made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes infused with flavors like extract from the china calissaja tree bark (origin of quinine), licorice, and cinnanom. It's herbaceous, very complex - almost "medicinal" tasting - but in a very good way. It was the perfect way to finish off the meal.
They gave us each a bag with one of my favorite desserts, cannoli from Modern Pastry (yes! no need to go to the North End and stand in those long lines anymore!)
We started heading our way out of the restaurant when I got my first real glimpse of their massive pizza oven.
"Wow, that's an amazing oven. Check out that flame!"
VPN regulations say that pizza must be baked for 60–90 seconds in a 485 °C (905 °F) stone oven with an oak-wood fire. More specifically, the pizza has to be baked at the floor of the oven.
Alec explained to me that they typically start putting wood into the fire several hours before the first pizza is baked, since that's how long it takes to heat that oven up to those crazy high temperatures. They continue to feed it wood throughout the night until the late evening, where they let it slowly die out.
"Do you want to make a pizza?"
"Really??!!" I sort of didn't really believe him.
"Sure, why not?"
I ran into the kitchen to wash my hands, threw my camera at Bryan, and plopped myself next to their best pizza maker - a guy who can apparently churn out pizzas at some crazy rate (like one per minute or something).
Stretching out the pizza dough wasn't as hard I might have imagined (none of this throwing it in the air business), though I struggled to make it even.
We made a simple Margherita, my favorite, with San Marzano tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil, and (surprise!) a bit of Parmesan.
"We had to ask the VPN for permission to put that on top of our pizza," said Alec (since it's not standard).
I carefully slid the pizza into the oven. The trick in getting a successful "slide" is to be confident. Do it all in one motion. Push it in, and then pull out in one motion. It's when people start pushing and pulling the pizza peel back and forth that the pizza gets all bent out of shape.
It was a quick, quick bake - only ninety seconds! It's amazing how quickly the crust starts bubbling at those high temperatures.
Why hello, lovely!
I know, we were beyond stuffed, but Bryan said, "you have to try it when it's hot." He's absolutely right, so we all tasted it, and it was fabulous. Here's Bryan and Rachel from Foodista On Pointe totally enjoying these slices.
Step by step process of me making the pizza!
We really enjoyed our dinner at Posto. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised that a place so close to us served such a wide variety of good, seasonally-inspired Italian food. I really enjoyed the salads and the pastas dishes. We only had one main course, which I found a bit underwhelming, but I haven't really had a chance to try the rest of the menu yet. Our favorite spots in Boston (which, admittedly are significantly more expensive), probably still hold an edge on the pastas and main dishes.
The pizza, however, is a different story.
There's something about the flavor of that pizza crust that we found unusually addictive. In fact, Bryan and I brought home the leftovers of this Margherita pizza, forgot about it, and then ate it a week later. Although it had sort of dried out and suffered quite a bit in terms of texture (OK, it was almost as hard as a rock), we still ended up finishing the whole pie (slowly, chewing for a long time!) because the flavors of everything - both the toppings and the crust - were just really, really good.
So, definitely come try the pizza, but do try some of the other stuff on the menu too. I like how there's a wide variety of food (and price points) from which to choose. I like how the food is familiar and approachable, yet executed with high quality ingredients with just a bit of creative flair.
I could totally see this place becoming a neighborhood favorite (for us!) for those times we're hankering Italian and just don't feel like trekking out to the North End.
187 Elm St.
Disclaimer: This meal was paid for by Posto Pizzeria. All opinions are my own.