Thursday, April 7, 2011

Boston, Massachusetts - Prezza

If you want a place in Boston where everybody really does know your name, and locals flock there because they are treated with a familiar smile and delicious plates of some of the best Italian food in the city, then look no further than Prezza restaurant in the North End. I've been coming here for years, and resident bartenders Kim and Lisa will greet you by name, clear a place for you at the bar, serve up your preferred drink and ask how your week was, before you've even had the chance to take your coat off. There is a wonderful sense of camaraderie at their lively bar. Beyond the actual bar itself there is a warm and inviting dining room, though nothing speaks louder than the quality of the food here. Named after the town in Italy where chef Anthony Caturano's grandmother was born (in the region of Abruzzo), Prezza prides itself on fresh, seasonal ingredients coupled with authentic Italian recipes that are full of flavor and gusto.

I want to share with you some of my favorite dishes. If you are not panting after seeing these food photos then get out the defibrillator. The menu changes seasonally, so there is always something new to try, though they are careful to maintain those signature dishes that keep people like me coming back so often. They also have a serious wine collection that exceeds 8,000 bottles and covers around 900 labels. Hands down my favorite appetizer in the city is Prezza's crispy shrimp on a bed of Italian cole slaw and drizzled with cherry pepper aioli.

I always order the homemade potato gnocchi alla bolognese, with rustic meat ragout, tomato, porcini cream and pecorino roman cheese. Creamy, rich, flavorful, yet light and not overpowering, this classic bolognese dish (as well as all of their pastas) can be ordered in a half portion as well, so you can leave room for the main dishes.

My father's favorite dish here is the spicy mussels cooked in a tomato and fennel stew and served on a bed of chorizo polenta. If I had a dollar for every time he has ordered this I would be lounging on a beach somewhere. The sausage adds a nice kick of flavor to the broth and the polenta absorbs all of the delicious juices. Dunk some of their onion focaccia bread in here and you have yourself a full meal.

As we continue into main dishes, one should note that Prezza serves a rotisserie special each evening from their wood grill, but it disappears quickly; they only have about 5 or 6 portions, so order immediately as availability is limited. This next dish is a mainstay on the menu and does not disappoint. It is a veal porter house chop served with saffron lobster risotto, broccoli rabe and red wine sauce. Bring your appetite, as this is a robust portion.

A seasonal menu addition is the Buffalo milk ricotta ravioli served with a wild boar ragu, rosemary and pecorino cheese. Wild boar ragu is a dish that I always seek out when I am in the Umrbia region of Italy and I make it a point to order it whenever I see it on a menu here in the States. These pillows of ricotta nestled in the hearty wild boar ragu are divine.

For die hard fish lovers, look no further than the fish stew with tomato, lobster, swordfish, shrimp, clams, mussels and squid. I'm pretty sure that every living sea creature is in there, so if you are in the mood to sample some fresh New England seafood, this dish is for you.

Lastly we have a crispy bone-in pork chop with vinegar peppers, potatoes and roasted onions that is coated in seasoned bread crumbs and lightly pan fried. I love to eat half of this and then bring the rest in to work the next day for lunch. Its a simple dish with a few key ingredients that is done very well. 

Again I have to say, my most favorite dessert in the city is Prezza's piping hot white chocolate bread pudding drizzled with creme anglais and topped with vanilla bean ice cream. I have dreams about this dessert when I'm asleep at night. Trust me on this one. 

As we were celebrating a special occasion on my last visit here, we ordered several of the desserts on the menu to share. Clockwise from the top left we have the aforementioned white chocolate bread pudding, then the vanilla creme brulee with fresh whipped cream and chocolate pecan brownies on the side, followed by a warm chocolate flourless cake with a molten center, vanilla ice cream and raspberry puree, and lastly, a very refreshing limoncello cheesecake on a biscotti crust.

As my maternal family members were all born and raised in the North End over many generations, we are often asked to suggest our favorite restaurant in this Italian neighborhood (outside of our own kitchens, that is). If you are looking for red and white checkered tablecloths and a heaping plate of chicken parmigiana covered in spaghetti, then there are many generic restaurants that can satisfy those needs. However, if you want truly authentic, genuine and flavorful Italian dishes cooked to consistent perfection, look no further than Prezza. This is our favorite.
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