Liz, my parents and I went to Erbaluce last weekend. It was quite a memorable night for several reasons. Not the least of which was my dad getting a little bit soused and telling the same story about the hazards of flying Ryanair at least three times. He also kept asking Liz if she was poor. Not quite sure what that was about. But hey, it was the night before Easter and the wine was a-flowin’. This was thanks in large part to the incredible generosity of Chuck Draghi, the head chef and co-owner of Erbaluce, who selected several delicious bottles from his collection of Northern Italian wines for us. We had met the chef before both as a server at no. 9 Park as well as in a class on Friulan wine at Stir. It takes a lot to impress my dad when it comes to knowledge about Italian wine and food and Chef Draghi is one of the few in the Boston area who has managed to accomplish that.
This is the second time Liz and I have been to Erbaluce and both times the chef has greeted each table in the restaurant with a small complimentary plate. This time, he brought some grilled octopus that came with a fresh salsa of different tomatoes and herbs. Very nice.
Then came the appetizers: razor clams, scallops, anchovies, and polenta. The razor clams were the winners here, but every dish was quite tasty, and I think an impressive demonstration of Erbaluce’s cooking M.O: simple, simple, simple. The dishes came with just a few subtle accompanying flavors, but above all you taste the fish. Fresh, whole herbs are another calling card of the food here. There will be no little sprigs of rosemary, but entire trees adorning your plate.
Native razor clams steamed with green peppercorns, leeks, and white wine. Delicious, I sopped up all the broth.
Scallops. My dad inhaled these before anyone else could try them so I assume they were good.
Fresh anchovies with lemon, black olive and green beans. Special of the night. The scales were so delicate, I just chomped these suckers down whole.
Polenta with tomatoes. My mom found the polenta a bit coarse and grainy, but Liz thought it was just right.
Next, the pastas: I really want to say good things about them, but the pasta dishes are where Erbaluce strays from it’s own philosophy of simplicity and totally misses the mark. This is tragic since the housemade pasta is actually very good – it’s just lost in the sea of flavors. Of the four pastas ordered, three suffered from this: the pansoti, the gnocchi, and the fusili. My spaghi were a bit better in this respect, but still nothing that special.
Pansoti with sauteed greens, ricotta and a walnut lemon thyme pesto.
Gnocchi in a far-too-soupy ragu of wild boar . The gnocchi broke down into mush sitting in the liquid.
Fusili arrabbiata. The sauce was an odd combination of sweet and spicy.
Spaghi with clams and a tomato bronze fennel broth.
The meal got back on track with the meat courses. The signature rack of boar, the branzino, the veal, and the rabbit all stood out for the emphasis on the taste and quality of the meat itself.
Branzino. They offer to fillet it for you if desired, but how would you suck the eyeballs out if they did that?
Roasted rack of wild boar with a wild Concord grape and lavender mosto. Once again, my dad sucked it down before anyone could get their forks in there.
Lemon roasted veal loin. The sauce was on the sweet side (something that, oddly, was true of several dishes over the course of the night), but that didn’t offset the melting texture of the meat.
The Easter Bunny. Liz barely got through a bite of this, but that’s because she filled up on her polenta and the tasty bean puree that came out with the bread. My dad was flabbergasted at her lack of will and called her “a total disappointment”.
The desserts were just okay. This is the Giandjua truffle.We also tried the orange and chocolate tart. Both were a little too rich for the end of a big meal.
Overall we were very happy with our meal. If the kitchen could get rid of the heavy hand with the pasta sauces then Erbaluce would be my favorite Italian restaurant in Boston.