When I was 21, my parents took me out to Rialto. It was a fantastic meal...and I haven't been able to make it back since. Yet after interviewing Jody Adams and using her cookbook, I became wistful about that meal and wanted to return. However, until I can rationalize a special occasion, I knew it wasn't in the current budget. Instead, a friend and I decided to try out the Monday night oyster special. From what we read on the Rialto website, we assumed we could sit at the bar and devour $1 oysters for the evening.
What we didn't expect was that the "bar" includes a lovely lounge area with tables and chairs and that there is an entire, reasonably priced menu of wonderful Rialto dishes to choose from.
We began with a plate of the delicious oysters. Yet what sets Rialto apart is that they were served with 3 delicious sauces: a spicy Harissa, a savory migonette and a wonderful pureed tomato sauce.
Next, we shared a plate of antipasti. You can order any 3 from a range of choices for $10.00. First we had a heavenly duck liver pate. The taste was so complex that I ran home to check the recipe in Chef Adam's cookbook, In The Hands of a Chef. In fact, it includes over 10 ingredients! I would go back for this alone as I doubt I will be making it any time soon! Next, we enjoyed a grilled stuffed squash blossom, filled with cheese and herbs. Our third dish was "titled fried olives...salami, parmesan." What arrived were fried dumplings of chopped salami, olives and parmesan rolled together. They were decadent mouthfuls and would be fantastic with a cold beer.
We were incredibly impressed with our duck sandwich. For $13, we got an enormous sandwich filled with duck, gruyere and a heavenly gingered fig compote. Two people could easily share this for a light meal. However, not knowing when we would have the chance to return, we tried one more dish: The Fisherman's Soup. Again, the presentation struck us. We were served a bowl that was lined with a emerald-colored basil oil. The waiter than poured a fragrant saffron colored soup into the dish. It was served with garlicky rouille, shredded gruyere and toasts, that when popped into the soup, melted into pools that were creamy and rich. The soup was simple but tasted of the essence of shellfish. It was delicious.
We ended the meal with one of our more expensive dishes-a $9 dessert. But I have to say, it was worth it. It was a cherry cream tart, served with a tart yogurt sorbet, mint and "sesame crunch". Each element was excellent, nor was it too sweet.
I am not sure when I will make it back to Rialto. But I will be back to the bar, soon.
Rialto Restaurant and Bar, 1 Bennett Street, Cambridge 617-661-5050