For good Italian food, I rarely head to the North End. It's too far away, over-touristed and overpriced. And why would I head all the way to Haymarket when a perfectly wonderful Northern Italian restaurant is so close by (visit La Morra!)
Then I moved to Cambridge.
There are no good Italian restaurants in Cambridge. Let me repeat this travesty, there are no good Italian restaurants in Cambridge. I've heard rumors about a spot in the back of a grocery store near Union Square, but overall, I've been severely deprived. And so, when my friends suggested dinner in the North End, they made me an offer I couldn't refuse...
Following a series of ill-fated attempts to board a train together, we finally made it to Hanover Street. Wandering up and down the menu packed sidewalks it became clear to me that a decision would never be made. The local favorite, Giacamo's, had the predictably long line. It was late. We were hungry. Standing in line was not an option. And so we turned to a funky spot called, Strega. Bedecked with red curtains and lined with flat screened televisions showing various Italian-American films (mainly about the mafia), I thought it looked promising. Photos of the owner with celebrities such as JT and Paris Hilton were posted next to the reasonable-sounding menu. Despite some reservations, we went in...
...the restaurant was surprisingly small. Fortunately we got a table right away. Surrounded by rotund waiters shouting out various Italian phrases to one another and suspiciously mafia-esque patrons in black leather jackets, slicked back hair and portly bellys, I felt this place was sure to be good. After all, if half the clientele is Italian, it must be good, no?
Our waiter offered us the day's special: homemade buffalo mozzarella stuffed with ricotta and served on prociutto. It was light, fresh and very delicious. I really wasn't bothered by the fact that it was probably made for tourists (being a little light on the prociutto flavor) because it went fabulously with the smooth bottle of Chianti we randomly picked off the wine menu. For a main course I tried the pappardelle all'emiliana because I had seen a waiter walking by with the dish and it looked GREAT. The delicious ragu sauce was made with ground tenderloin and fresh porcini mushrooms. While this in no way rivaled my favorite dish at La Morra, I have to say, the pasta was fresh, al dente and the sauce was rich and delicious. The clear homerun meal, however, was the fettucini Strega. Freshly made fettucini was served with ginormous shrimp and delicious, perfectly cooked scallops with fresh baby spinach and a touch of fabulous cream sauce. It was PHENOMENAL. I would go back just for the fettucini Strega.
Having had several glasses of the Chianti, it did not take much for our Joe Mantegna-lookalike waiter to convince us to get some dessert. Out of all the options, tiramisu was the clear choice. When it arrived, topped with bubbles of perfectly formed whipped cream and powdered cocoa, I have to admit, I was a bit worried. In that little glass dish, the bubbles reminded me of those ice creams one might get at a pushcart near the beach. This could be really disappointing...nevertheless, I dunked my spoon into the bowl and immediately knew I was in for a treat. The spoon went through the first layer and then the second with such light and delicate ease! Made with real lady fingers, REAL espresso and just the right amount of mascarpone cream, the tiramisu was possibly the best I've ever had in Boston. That's admittedly not saying too much, but I have had the tiramisu at La Morra (which might be a tad bit better, served globbed on a plate with very little pomp and circumstance.) I would consider going back just for the tiramisu.
Our waiter let us hang about for as long as we wanted, serving us small glasses of the house-made "Strega," a deadly concoction of some sort of licorice flavored liquor with loads of sugar. We were told that 4 glasses of this stuff would knock you off your feet for at least a day or two, but one glass was perfectly fine. So much for those brain cells. By the end of the evening we were ready to roll out of the restaurant and down the street. After a fine evening of wine, good food and delicious dessert, there wasn't much else to do besides head home and crawl into bed, happy, satiated and very, very stuffed.
379 Hanover Street