Sunday, August 24, 2008
Date Night #2: Restaurant Dante
If you just did the math, you will in fact realize, that, yes, we have only gone on 2 dates in about 6 months. Ah, the life of parents with young children. Since we still haven't quite ventured beyond using our own parents as babysitters it is that much more challenging to really go out. However, as luck would have it, we found ourselves with our in-laws available to watch the kids the same night that Dante had a last minute opening. Better still we had a new gift certificate from Restaurant.com. (Another mom friend had just told me about this site and it is pretty terrific if you are trying to eat out and pay the sitter. You register and receive e-mails which enable you pay $5.00 for a $25.00 gift certificate to local restaurants. While I am not about to race out to most of the offerings, Dante had been on my "must try list" for a few months.) We were actually celebrating our anniversary...2 months late...but it was ultimately worth it!
When date night is so infrequent, you just hope that all will go well: minimal traffic, a good meal, good service and, most of all, no phone calls from the sitter! This was definitely our lucky night. It was one of those gorgeous August evenings, we were seated on the patio and our children slept soundly the whole time. In just 30 minutes, we found ourselves going from life in the suburbs to watching the sunset on the Charles River. It made it that much easier to settle into the evening and just enjoy the pleasure of being on our own for a few hours.
The night was even more wonderful (and I am truly not being paid by Dante for this) as the food and service were fabulous.
We instantly were impressed with our waiter, Steven. He was laid back and professional. He gave us great stories with the dishes, while explaining them in intricate detail. At the same time he was not pretentious. It was clear that he had a passion for food and wine and that he also enjoyed his job. One of the highlights of the evening was when I asked him for a recommendation for one of the pasta dishes. I had heard so much about Dante's homemade pasta and now that I am eating wheat again (my infant grew out of his colic!) I was excited to finally try it. Steven said that while the homemade pasta was wonderful, he was taken with a new pasta that Dante had started to buy in Italy from the town of Gragnano. After extolling the texture and taste, he noted that the restaurant was actually not serving it this evening. Moving on, I began to throw out my individual requests: could the pasta dishes on the menu be made without shellfish or nuts? (Although D. is over the colic, he is still at risk for food allergies...) Steven went to check with the kitchen and told me that not only could they make me a custom made pasta replete with my favorite mushrooms, chanterelles, but they had found some more Gragnano maccheroncelli in the back!
After eating way too much of the heavenly olive oil and bread plate, when the noodle dish arrived, it was as good as Steven had said. The macaroni are particularly thick (they take 20 minutes to cook) and toothsome. They were perfect for the rich porcini crema and meatiness of the mushrooms. I thought the addition of the sliced asparagus and pea pods were perfect as they added crispness and color to a wonderful dish.
My husband's flat iron steak was also excellent. Perfectly cooked (alas, he still insists on it being cooked to medium!), it was sitting on caramelized shallots (a bit sweeter than caramelized onions), next to a perfectly dressed watercress salad. The highlight, though, were the frites (thin french fries) that were dark and served with an ethereal truffle ketchup.
Dessert was also one of the best parts. We enjoyed a chocolate hazelnut cake, but I will return over and over for the fritelle. A cross between donuts and fritters, the little dumplings were light and pipping hot. They were served with 4 sauces: a dark chocolate (I would have preferred a bit less sugar), a deliciously bitter caramel, a raspberry and, my favorite-ginger creme anglaise. The ginger cut the richness perfectly and was unforgettable.
And now, the apex of the evening. Dante (owner and chef) himself, came to talk to the customers at the next table. When he stood up, my ever-friendly husband said, "Hello, Dante" and proceeded to compliment him on the meal. Dante was the antithesis of the "celebrity chef." Instead he was down to earth and friendly, taking the time to tell us that the fritelle recipe came from a friend of his who is a chef in Venice. When I pointed out how much I enjoyed the pasta, Dante went to the kitchen and returned with a bag of the it for me to take home! What can I say-some people would swoon over a purse, others over Red Sox tickets, for me it doesn't get much better than imported Italian pasta from a great (and very kind) chef.