December 2009


I’ve sung Gran Gusto’s praises before. It’s our go to place any time we’re in the mood for great pizza.  But this particular occasion merits its own mention because of the incredible quality of the meal from top to bottom. From the grilled squid, to the speck and stracciatella, to the pizza, and the dessert, this may have been the best Italian meal I’ve had in the Boston area. Nothing fancy, just fresh, perfectly cooked and delicious.

grilled octopus

A lot of restaurants get too creative with grilled octopus. There’s nothing better than a nice char, lemon and parsley.

stracciatella and speck

On this particular night the kitchen had several specials revolving around what is now my favorite cheese: stracciatella. It’s the cheese that is used to stuff Burrata – a mixture of mozzarella and cream that will blow your mind. It was served with speck, dressed with a little black pepper, oregano and olive oil, and set over some bitter greens. We inhaled it and quickly ordered another.

rigatoni, stracciatella, tomato, chanterelles

Here the stracciatella was laid over rigatoni in a sauce of cherry tomatoes and chanterelles. Unbelievably good.

margarita

Followed it up with the best pizza around.

ricotta pie

And then topped it off with a nice piece of ricotta pie.

Though the pasta dishes are hit or miss at Gran Gusto, when they get it right, they knock it out of the park. It’s the closest thing we have to the kind of trattoria you might find anywhere across Italy. The service used to be spotty but it seems as if they’ve weeded out the problems as the restaurant has picked up business. Go there.

Gran Gusto on Urbanspoon

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There’s something odd about the aesthetic of Ginger Park. The interior, inherited from its predecessor Banq, seems like a combination of an underground sand bunker and an ear canal.  Like when Han Solo landed the Milennium Falcon in the belly of the space slug, you get the feeling that at any moment the restaurant could come alive and swallow you up. If it did, you’d be consumed along with some occasionally very tasty and otherwise just kind of tasty asian food. The menu is fairly long, ensuring there will be at least a few things for everyone. And in keeping with the Boston area trend away from three course meals and towards small plates (or, in my case, 5 course meals), Ginger Park encourages you to order a spattering of dishes to share with your friends. This trend irks me for several reasons. First, this can lead to occasionally awkward group ordering should hunger not be equally distributed amongst your party.  Erring on the side of too much food solves this problem, but is that really a position I want to be put in? Second, if group dining and sharing is the idea then offer some dishes that deserve to be shared – not plates where you have to ask how many dumplings come with an order to ensure everyone gets a bite. Specials that cater to groups of 4,6, 8 people. Something akin to the Bo Ssam at Momofuku in New York would not only be a more appropriate group dish but also be a unique addition to Boston restaurants more generally. I digress.

The food at Ginger Park is good. How good? Not good enough to persuade me to regularly pay twice the amount I would in Chinatown or Allston for dishes with the same flavors but that are less aesthetically pleasing. But good enough to make me go back when I want to accompany those flavors with good drinks and  a nice outfit. Here’s what we got:

Stir-Fried Silver Pin Noodles w/ snow tofu, bean sprouts

Dolsit Bi Bim Bap

Duck confit and chinese sausage fried rice w/ sunny side up egg

Tea smoked duck, mandarin pancakes, roasted plums

fried fish special

The only disappointment was the whole fish. Not a lot of meat on them bones. The “mandarin” pancakes were essentially  scallion pancakes, and a mediocre version at that. They didn’t compare to Gourmet Dumpling House. I appreciated the kitchen’s willingness to drop a raw egg on the bi bim bap – not too many restaurants would risk offending the squeamish with that move. Both rice dishes and the noodle dish were quite tasty.

While there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly new or exciting about the food at Ginger Park, we were happy with our meal and it does seem to fill a niche in Boston. Asian food tends to come in a casual if not downright dirty atmosphere (not counting Japanese which lends itself quite nicely to an upscale environment, as evidence by O Ya, Oishii, etc..). While there are a couple places that try to defy the stereotype (PF Chang’s? maybe Ginger Exchange?) Ginger Park is to my knowledge the only restaurant serving this kind of food in a trendy atmosphere. One where you might take a date, or meet with co-workers after a long day in your suits. I think that will keep it alive, and makes it worth a visit when that’s what you’re looking for.

Ginger Park on Urbanspoon