Friday, March 28, 2008
Dante de Magistris
We visited "dante" restaurant recently at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge and it was one of the best dining experiences we've had during Restaurant Week. Really a tremendous value. Dante de Magistris has come a long way since the days we remember him as a little boy, with his thick afro-like head of hair, roaming about in Belmont Center. What he's done with his restaurant is really spectacular.
First, the design. All clean lines, white walls, soaring ceilings and modern abstract art. Simple leather chairs and wooden tables add to the chic minimalist/euro feel. And the location couldn't be better with our window seat affording a great view of the Charles River. In warmer weather they also seat diners outside.
Our first taste was, of course, the bread: slices of a rustic Tuscan loaf served with the most fantastic olive oil sourced and imported from the private family estate. The sweet, fruity mellow flavor of this Caso Frantoia Extra Virgin Olive Oil prompted us to literally pour it over the pieces of bread we tore off. Fantastico.
For the primo course we opted for the antipasto misto. It is presented on a large, square white plate that serves as a canvas for this work of art. The plate contained beautifully arranged, tidy portions of prosciutto, arancini, ceviche (lime, cilantro, shrimp), bresaola wrapped around parsley and drizzled with olive oil, mozzarella di buffalo on arugula, winter melon and peppers agro e dolce (sweet and sour). The arancini were much smaller than you see at your typical Italian restaurant but perfectly flavored, smoky and sweet, with a golden crust. The peppers had a nice acidic bite, the ceviche hotter. The prosciutto and bresaola were salty and tangy and worked well (and so traditionally) with the slices of cool, sweet melon. The chunk of mozzarella was the only disappointment. We have certainly had fresher and this lacked the firm yet creamy substance of an artisan product, OK but not at the level of the rest of the ingredients.
Next was the hanger steak. Grilled hanger steak, herb frites, grilled lemon thyme aioli, garlic butter, and truffled watercress. The hanger was perfectly rare and impeccably flavored as it rested in the garlic butter on its transport to the table. The truffled watercress I could simply eat for days on end. The subtle flavor of truffle is addictive. The herb frites were a bit salty but, again, perfectly cooked with just the right texture. The secret to a great frite is double frying.
Dining al fresco at dante Restaurant.
The dolce was straciatelle panna cotta and fritelle with chocolate hazelnut sauce. Fritelle is a fried dough perfected in Venice and it easily clinched our choice. The pana cotte was heaven, perfectly creamy as it rested on the tongue. The fritelle was nirvana again, similar to a tiny flattened doughnut if one had one directly out of the fryer, still warm - just the way we used to have them on those cool mornings at Bernard's Bakery in Ogunquit. Again, the key here is to enjoy these almost immediately out of the fryolater. Nothing could be better fresh and our waiter smilingly remarked at how quickly they disappear.
Overall, I can't give dante a higher recommendation. Exemplary food in a very chic spot, great view, a fashionable crowd ... what else can one ask for?
5 Cambridge Pkwy
Cambridge, MA 02142