Sunday, January 20, 2008
221 Northern Ave, Boston
A feeling of suspicion arises when a brand new chunk of land is predicted to be the latest desirable neighborhood. A neighborhood should naturally become desirable after years of being inhabited by artists and other single people with good taste. Boston's latest self-described hip hood, the seaport district, seemed destined for failure because it is not an organically evolving community, but virtually empty land developed by businessman. And yet, surprisingly, the scheme for the district might just be working.
Salvatore's, a restaurant relatively new to the seaport district, (it was opened this past June) was almost entirely filled on a recent chilly and overcast Monday night. The weather's quick transformation from summer to fall that evening prevented the large outdoor patio from being crowded, but the bar and the dining room were bustling. High-rise luxury condo buildings that flank Salvatore's can be blamed for the crowds on a less-than-desirable night to eat out. The condos are home to fortunate college students, young professionals and rumor has it, to local heroes Jonathan Papelbon and Coco Crisp. But the bar's design itself should also be held responsible for the crowd. Plasma televisions are hung discretely, but efficiently, around the centrally located bar. Sleek metal stylings make the bar feel contemporary and urban. The same look carries over into the dining room, but here the room is softened by the carefully arranged orange throw pillows and candles in copper holders.
Glancing at the menu prices, one would not assume they are dining off the beaten path in a neighborhood whose success is still uncertain. However, when the dishes arrived absolutely heaped with food, it became obvious how much more bang is bought for a buck. The shrimp crostini appetizer, for example, is served with about ten jumbo shrimp and roasted cherry tomatoes in a brandy tomato sauce with garlic and basil. Three large, thick slices of country sourdough bread are piled high in the middle of the dish, waiting for their inevitable ride through the sauce. A dip in the sauce will bring the taste of fresh tomatoes with subtle hints of garlic and basil. The shrimp were cooked perfectly; they were tender, crisp and juicy with good flavor and coloring. Although the sauce wouldn't have been spoiled by the addition of a tad more garlic and basil, it achieved its presumed goal of having a big tomato taste.
The antipasto plate is a great choice for a table to share. The aesthetically pleasing plate is filled with rows of rolled slices of imported sopressata, sweet capicola, and parma prosciutto. The rows of cured meat are interrupted twice, once by slices of fresh mozzarella and once with large pieces of sharp provolone. A handful of baby greens, and a selection of olives placed at the top of the plate add texture and color.
Our waitress, clearly passionate about the menu, was quick to offer recommendations for dinner; she said that those who like a bite on the tongue will love the spice shrimp and scallop fradiavolo. Shrimp and scallops are sautéed with olive oil, garlic, cherry tomatoes, chili peppers and white wine and served with mafaldine paste. This type of paste, not frequently seen on menus, is long, flat and wide with rippled edges. The pasta's shape, which is similar to lasagna, allows for it to hold its own in the most robust of sauces. A good use of this pasta is in Salvatore's mammarosa piccante which features the mafaldine in a rich tomato cream sauce tossed with fried pieces of prosciutto.
The waitress also recommended, what is clearly a specialty of the house, the pork chop with vinegar peppers. The dish was presented by the chef himself, along with an anecdote about the dish in his mother's kitchen, and her method for pickling peppers. The pork chop is sautéed in extra virgin olive oil with garlic, shallots and cherry tomatoes and served with the much lauded vinegar peppers. A love of vinegar is a must for the dish because the peppers infuse each bite and cannot be ignored. Asparagus, cooked to perfection, and potato wedges accompany the dish.
Another specialty of the house is the dessert pizza. About eight slices of crispy pizza dough are topped with a generous spread of Nutella and drizzled with chocolate sauce.
It would be hard to make a mistake choosing the right beverage to go with your meal. Salvatore's wine list is quite extensive and features wine from all parts of the world in a variety of prices. A beverage list featuring martinis, margaritas and even sangria is also available.
The seaport district will continue to thrive if more businesses like Salvatore's place their trust in the real estate. Although the restaurant is shiny and new, it has staying power because the people behind the scenes have passion and experience. The passion was evident in the attention to details like the slices of lemon and lime brought with the tap water. It was also evident when the executive chef served our dishes with a side of conversation and made a point to stop and do the same at each and every table. The restaurant is owned by the experienced team who also owns Sal's pizza. The executive chef arrived in Boston from Italy years ago to work with Frank De Pasquale at Il Panino. If the seaport relies on establishments run with the right mix of passion and experience and not just cool architecture, in the near future Bostonians could be lunching in the district, reminiscing about the day when it was only some land and a lot of ideas.