Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stuff to Eat in the Suburbs: Needham—Spiga

Quattro Formaggio Risotto from Spiga

Last week this Bostonist had the pleasure of attending the grand re-opening for Spiga, a wonderful taste of the North End in Needham. Spiga really touts two separate menus: a lunch menu, filled with delightfully simple paninis and delicious wood-oven grilled pizzas; and a dinner menu featuring more complex fare, like the wonderfully rich spinach and ricotta ravioli in an intense duck ragu. Last week’s grand re-opening festivities featured items from both the lunch and dinner selections.

This Bostonist had the opportunity to sample a number of Spiga’s most delectable dishes at the event. In the lunch category, tiny paninis offered delightfully tender prosciutto and perfectly salty salami in homemade Italian rolls. While the paninis were very tasty, their miniaturized size makes it difficult to predict how filling the regular-sized sandwich would be.

Tiny Panini from Spiga

Samples of two different lasagnas were passed around next. A meat lasagna featuring parmesan cheese, housemade noodles, and Spiga’s own bolognaise sauce was such a hit with this Bostonist that she was dreaming about it two nights later. Their excellent bolognaise is a combination of veal, lamb, chicken liver, and beef, all items that are fantastic on their own, but combined in this sauce they are heavenly. The sauce is perfectly balanced--none of the meats are overpowering—and the flavor is the perfect accompaniment and accent to the tender homemade pasta. This Bostonist would be happy with just a bowl of Spiga’s pasta and bolognaise sauce, which by the way is one of the dishes available on the dinner menu. There was also a vegetable lasagna that was just brimming with a variety of tender vegetables, layered between Spiga’s housemade noodles, and topped with a very light and yet creamy b├ęchamel.

An appetizer from the dinner menu, the sea scallops in a roasted garlic confit was a truly amazing dish. The scallops were perfectly cooked; not too soft and not chewy at all, they were pan seared to provide a nice, salty crust on the top and bottom of the scallop. The slightly sweet roasted-garlic puree was an inspired choice to pair with the scallops; the slightly sweet rich flavor of the confit was the perfect contrast and accompaniment to the saltiness of the scallops.

While the risotto at Spiga changes nightly, the one this Bostonist sampled was delightful in its simplicity. Quattro Formaggio Risotto with spinach features a blending of pecorino, mozzarella, and parmesan, which gave this risotto its rich creamy flavor. A hint of goat cheese added just a little bit of extra tang that made this a dish worth raving about.
Spiga’s signature dessert is its bread pudding. Now, this Bostonist isn’t normally a fan of bread pudding but decided to give it a try due to all the hype. And it was amazing! With texture more like custard than a bread pudding, this sweet and tender dish is perfectly accented with a salty caramel sauce. This Bostonist was so enamored with the bread pudding that she went back several nights later just to eat dessert!

The dining room‘s soft lighting and elegant decorations provide a romantic atmosphere perfect for a night out. Of course, the vibrant wait staff and the inspired patio seating make this a great destination for groups as well. Or, if you aren’t in the mood to eat in, Spiga also offers a takeout menu so you can enjoy these delicious dishes from the comfort of your own home. We ordered from Spiga a few nights later and we were pleasantly surprised at how well the food traveled and how fast the service was.

Spiga’s wonderful cuisine can be attributed to its new executive chef, Marisa Iocco, of Mare and Umbria, who took over the restaurant in April of 2009.

bread pudding smaller.jpg
Bread pudding with Salty Caramel Sauce from Spiga

Though Spiga can be a little hard to find--it is hidden in a little circle off of Highland Street in Needham--it is close enough to the highway to be convenient but far enough away not to be bombarded by the sounds of speeding cars. Spiga’s delightful cuisine and welcoming atmosphere makes it a suburban destination that we highly recommend.

Spiga’s menu is available online at their website.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Stuff to Eat in the Suburbs: Wellesley—Tutto Italiano

This Bostonist was first introduced to Tutto Italiano while working across the street in Wellesley several years ago. The big red sign above the door was intriguing and the hype from coworkers even more so. As suckers for a good sandwich, we wandered over one afternoon to give them a try. The atmosphere of this little piece of Italy in America is very casual. Tutto’s wares are displayed simply; letting the quality and variety of products speak for themselves. The focal point of the shop is the enormous meat counter that stretches along one entire wall of the shop. Behind this counter is where the magic really happens.

Tutto Italiano has a fairly simple menu, with some standard sandwiches listed on a chalkboard to the left of the counter. Tutto Italiano encourages people to mix and match their delicious imported meats and cheeses to create new and wonderful taste combinations; but in the capable hands of Tutto’s staff even staple sandwiches have never tasted so good. All of the sandwiches are made with either sliced Panella bread or a crusty Italian sub roll; both of which are fresh baked and exclusive to Tutto Italiano. The Panino sandwich takes mouthwatering pats of fresh mozzarella and combines them with juicy tomato slices and whole basil leaves. The Panino de Parma takes this classic sandwich one step further by adding the freshest and most tender Prosciutto de Parma this Bostonist has ever tasted. Though we’ve never tasted their tuna personally, others tout it as heavenly.

In addition to amazing sandwiches, the deli counter also sells Italian delicacies such as Banana Peppers stuffed with Provolone & Prosciutto; Grilled Marinated Artichoke; Stuffed Olives (Gorgonzola, feta, provolone, garlic); Sun-dried Tomatoes; and Grilled Marinated Eggplant. You can even purchase slices of any of their delectable Italian meats and cheeses to take home and enjoy.

In addition to their mouthwatering sandwiches and deli counter options, Tutto Italiano also offers a wide selection of gourmet Italian foods including imported olive oils, pastas, and sweets. Their frozen section features items like amazing pizza dough, stuffed shells, and some truly spectacular prepackaged gelato.

Parking in Wellesley can be difficult, so be prepared to walk. A hefty line can sometimes build up at lunch time and occasionally they run out of bread if you visit later in the afternoon. Despite these few hiccups, Tutto Italiano is definitely worth the trip. We highly recommend picking up a sandwich and enjoying it in one of the many green spots in Wellesley.

While researching this article, this Bostonist discovered that Tutto Italiano actually exists in five Massachusetts locations from the North End to Lakeville, Mass, so you can get your sandwich fix no matter where you live. If you are looking for a delicious, genuine Italian experience, Tutto Italiano is the place to go.

This Post first appeared on the

Friday, May 8, 2009

Stuff to Eat in the Suburbs: Waltham—Solea

Solea is my husband's favorite restaurant and one of mine. We used to drive from Malden just to have their amazing duck in berry sauce. I can't recommend them highly enough.

Halfway down Moody Street, a yellow awning above a wall of tall windows marks the entrance to Solea, Waltham’s only tapas restaurant. The large menu can accommodate even the choosiest of diners, and the festive yet cozy atmosphere makes Solea the perfect spot for a large party or a quiet date night. Recently renovated to offer even more seating for the weekend dinner crowd, Solea also features a cozy bar with smaller tables for folks who just want a quick bite while waiting for friends, or who want to augment their drinking experience with some delicious small plates.

Solea is an old favorite of this Bostonist, who used to make the forty-five minute trek out to Waltham at least once a month just to have dinner there. The sangria, both white and red, is a must-order—not too fruity and not to bitter—and comes in pitchers as well as by the glass. You often forget how much you’re drinking because it pairs so perfectly with the food.

And what food it is! Normally, an order of three tapas per person is sufficient. However, the great thing about Solea is that if you realize you’re still hungry you can always order more. The food turnaround is fast and efficient, and despite complex orders placed by multiple diners, the courteous and knowledgeable wait staff has never gotten this Bostonist’s order wrong.

While all the offerings are tempting, there are a few dishes this Bostonist cannot leave without sampling. The sizzling garlic shrimp and the goat cheese with tomato and basil are usually some of the first items to arrive. Tiny shrimp float in a sizzling bowl of garlic oil alongside delectably thin slices of salty garlic and chili peppers, all waiting to be scooped up and heaped atop a piece of dense bread. The tomatoes and basil are thinly diced and baked into a soft puddle, topped with a warm baked goat cheese also deliciously accompanied by Solea’s dense bread slices.

The next tapas to come out are often the artichoke and spinach fritters and the collard greens with pine nuts and golden raisins. While this Bostonist believes that Solea does everything well, one thing that they are exceptional at is sauces. Their artichoke and spinach fritters are crispy on the outside and spongy on the inside, with the spinach and artichoke incorporated so perfectly that there are no strange texture interruptions. But the real star of this dish is the sauce: this Bostonist doesn’t know exactly what is in the sauce but its creamy texture and salty-sweet flavor is the perfect accompaniment to the fritters. You find yourself dipping every bite. The collard greens are still a little crunchy but cooked enough to keep them from being leafy; their bitterness pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the raisins, and the pine nuts give the whole dish an added dimension by adding a completely different texture.

The final dishes to arrive, or at least the last ones this Bostonist eats, are the grilled chorizo and the roasted duckling with berry sauce. The chorizo is delightfully salty and Solea grills it to perfection, a little crispy but mostly tender and completely flavorful. For those of you who don’t like a lot of spice, don’t worry; these babies are as mild as they come. The roast duckling is the dish this Bostonist ends with every time. Again, the Solea chefs show their sauce chops by creating one of the best berry sauces this Bostonist has ever tasted. Blackberries seem to be the main ingredient but there must be something else as well to make this sauce as complex as it is. The perfect balance of tart and sweet, the sauce compliments the salty, meaty flavor of the duck in ways that defy explanation. This Bostonist can’t recommend it highly enough; it is truly one of our favorite dishes.

The dishes described above are by no means the only things to order at Solea--everything is a treat. We recommend you try everything since you never know when you’ll find a new favorite.

In addition to the standard fare Solea’s chefs regularly try out new tapas so don’t forget to check your menu for the new items. Their desserts are tasty and well paired to the cuisine. This Bostonist highly recommends the chocolate almond cake with fresh berries and whipped cream and the crepe with a vanilla cream, fresh berry and dulce de leche filling if you can find the room after all of those tapas.

Once afflicted with the popular Boston no-reservations rule, Solea has eased up in recent years and now accepts reservations by phone and through open table. This Bostonist highly recommends Solea for any gathering from small and intimate to large and boisterous.

You can check out their menu on their website

This post originally appeared on the Bostonist.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Chocolate Madness at the Cyclorama

On Wednesday April 29, this Bostonist had the honor of being a guest judge at this year’s Chocolate Madness event, hosted by NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. Judges were asked to arrive early so that they could get their duties out of the way before the main event. After being handed our categories and escorted to the appropriate tables the judges set about to chose winners in each category: Into the Aether: Heavenly Stars of Showcase and Fancy Cakes; Out of the Fire: Fresh from the Oven; Down to Earth Mother’s Contemporary Candies; Flowing Water: Spoonfuls of Puddings, Ice Creams and Sorbets; and Light as Air: Sweet Treats to Go. Judges were asked to assess items on taste and originality. But the biggest perk of being a judge was the early access to all of the goodies. Once our judging duties were completed we were allowed free reign of the chocolate floor. At first this Bostonist was reticent to disrupt the aesthetics of the displays but volunteers and chefs assured us that it was alright and from then on it was a chocolate free for all.

More than twenty tables of unique chocolate creations were present at this year’s event and each one was surprisingly different from the next. On one side of the room South End Buttery was pouring Tarragon mochas down an ice luge, very tasty with a truly spectacular presentation. This Bostonist’s favorite of the evening was the Harvard Sweet Boutique’s Vanilla Sea Salt Caramel Brownies. While it sounds like there is a lot going on in this dessert everything blended perfectly, the caramel was chewy and the brownie soft and smooth while the salt accentuated both the chocolate and the caramel bringing the intensity of the overall flavor up to unforgettable.

Other memorable discoveries included Better Batch’s Sweet Bites cookies. The Fleur De Sel Caramel sweet bite was an amazing flavor combination, the cookie was crunchy with a smooth chocolate filling and a dollop of caramel on top sprinkled with salt. This cookie truly achieved the perfect balance of salty and sweet, it was being talked about all around the room. The chocolate framboise sweet bite was a softer chocolate cookie with a rich creamy filling topped with a raspberry. The tartness of the raspberry really accented the sweet richness of the chocolate without overpowering it. Canto 6 Bakery also impressed with a yummy chocolate cookie that was both rich and chewy. The tastiest cupcake offering, in this Bostonist’s opinion, was the chocolate cupcake with butter cream icing. The icing was so light, buttery, and delicious that we were a little concerned about it melting if the room got too warm so we helped out by eating several of the moist and chocolaty cupcakes. We ended the night with popcorn, caramel, and chocolate clusters from Care’s Bakery and Catering, definitely something this Bostonist would pick up again; it was a nice balance of crunchy, salty, and sweet.

As people began to pour in at seven-thirty this Bostonist was beginning to really ride the sugar high, so we decided to call it a night after a little people-watching. There was so much chocolate that by the end of the event this Bostonist felt like she was sweating chocolate and there was a general consensus of the need for drinks, how convenient that the Beehive was next door to provide such libations.

Overall this was a great event; a lot of fun with a great staff of volunteers for a good cause. All of the volunteers were really knowledgeable and happy to help judges and guests alike. Also, at $45 a ticket, it was well worth the chocolate coma. We highly recommend this event for chocoholics and those that love them.

This Post originally appeared on the Bostonist