Top Chef Master Mini-Series Part II: Rialto

As Top Chef Masters comes to a close, I thought I would do a tiny-mini-series highlighting the two chefs from my hometown of Cambridge who competed this season. Check out the first post in this series, Oleana, Ana Sortum’s Mediterranean restaurant in Cambridge. Ana Sortum was eliminated early in the show. Jody Adams, on the other hand, made the final eight and did not get eliminated until her undercooked goat dish in the “Exotic Surf & Turf” episode.
Rialto is Jody Adams’ restaurant and it sits in the Charles Hotel right in the middle of Harvard Square in Cambridge. Known for rustic Italian food with a local, New England flair, Rialto has long been regarded as one of the best modern dining experiences in Boston.

Unlike many chefs who competed in Top Chef Masters, Jody was never formally trained in culinary school. In fact, she graduated with a degree in Anthropology from Brown University (!). She then started by working as a line cook at Seasons restaurant for Lydia Shire, and moved up the ranks, opening Hamersley’s Bistro as a sous-chef with Gordon Hamersley and eventually opening up Rialto in 1994. Since then she has won numerous awards, from the James Beard Foundation Award for the Best Chef Award, Northeast to having Rialto named  as one of the best restaurants in the country by Esquire Magazine.

We visited Rialto on a beautiful Friday evening when we were able to book an early reservation for a wonderful seat right next to the window.  The critics are right – the food is fantastic and definitely worth trying. Currently, Jody Adams is featuring foods inspired by Venice, so you’ll see some dishes reminiscent of that region.
Parma prosciutto… sweet and sour beets, burrata, candied walnuts from Rialto
Parma prosciutto… sweet and sour beets, burrata, candied walnuts $17
I love the simple freshness of this dish. The creamy burrata is heavenly, and the rest of the ingredients work very well together. Having said all that, the preparation of this dish is very simple, and if you bought the same ingredients, you could probably just as easily roast your own beets, buy some high quality burrata (or at least a fantastic local alternative), and make this dish at home.
Pat and Barbara’s perfect grilled littlenecks… andouille, toasted garlic bread from Rialto
Pat and Barbara’s perfect grilled littlenecks… andouille, toasted garlic bread  $18
Bryan ordered these clams as his starter and they were very good. The clams are super fresh, simply topped with some chopped parsley and lemon juice. 
Nettle minestrone… morels, tiny pea ravioli, pesto from RIalto
Nettle minestrone… morels, tiny pea ravioli, pesto $13

I loved my farm fresh soup full of morel mushrooms, fresh peas, and these tiny pea raviolis, which were just delightful. These tiny handmade pasta pockets have the perfect al dente texture, filled with tiny bursts of peas. I love it. The broth is also very light, yet full of flavor. I love it when a dish is super healthy and incredibly delicious at the same time.
Wavy black ink risotto… many clams from Rialto
Wavy black ink risotto with New England razor, mahogany and littleneck  16/30

Jody Adams took the classic Venetian dish (squid ink risotto), and gave it a New England flare by adding local clams. The resulting dish is richly full of strong seafood flavors, both from the squid ink and also the countless clams that were cooked to make the broth. There are several types of clams, including the unique longish one (razor clams) you see in the picture. Overall, a deep, dark, rich and savory dish. 
Slow roasted duck… escarole, roasted fingerlings, Sicilian olives from Rialto
Slow roasted Long Island duck breast… escarole, roasted fingerlings, Sicilian olives 36

This is the most popular dish at Rialto and Jody Adams has been making it the same way for 20 years. Jody even said that whenever she tries to take it off the menu she gets letters of protest. Bryan enjoyed the duck immensely. It was perfectly cooked and had a wonderfully fragrant, slightly sweet flavor.
Pansôti… herb ravioli, nut sauce, farm egg from Rialto
Pansôti… herb ravioli, nut sauce, farm egg 15/28

Looking to get something a bit lighter, I decided to order a pasta dish instead of a meat dish as my main entree. This simple pansôti, which is like a ravioli of sorts, was delicious. The pansôti, when cut open, explodes with chopped up fragrant herbs mixed with a creamy sauce. The perfectly poached farm egg on top is a delight to break open.
Pansôti… herb ravioli, nut sauce, farm egg from RIalto
Of course, I happily mixed the egg yolks around and enjoyed it together with the rest of the elements on the plate.

Herb Pansoti

Here is a close up of the pansôti cut open and the egg yolks oozing all over the place!Pistachio olive oil cake… toasted almond panna cotta, chili chocolate sorbet from Rialto

Pistachio olive oil cake, Toasted almond panna cotta, Chili chocolate sorbet $12
For dessert, we shared a trio of desserts. I thought the dessert was fine, although nothing particularly special. 
Pistachio olive oil cake from Rialto

Overall Thoughts
Jody Adams clearly has a knack for creating wonderfully flavorful dishes that really bring out an ingredient’s natural flavors. I love how she really focuses on local organic farms, to the point where she actually takes her staff to these farms once a month (she calls it “Guerilla Grilling“) so they can become better acquainted with those that source the ingredients at Rialto. She is also passionate about a variety of social causes and is a strong supporter of Partners In Health. Currently, all proceeds from vegetable side dishes at Rialto go directly to Partners In Health.

I definitely recommend trying Rialto. You won’t be disappointed with the food, and the ambiance and service are fantastic as well. They are currently building an outside deck that should be ready mid to late June. Though the interior space is already gorgeous (recently renovated), I think sitting outside would be such a fun thing to do on a perfect day. You can almost imagine you are in Italy – savoring delicious Italian-inspired dishes made with fresh, local ingredients while sipping on a glass of wine on a warm summer night.

Harvard Square (inside the Charles Hotel)
1 Bennett St
Cambridge, MA 02138
Rialto on Urbanspoon

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