Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Tavola: Chef Ettore Brings Italian Cuisine To Winchester

Octopus sopresatta? Wild boar mortadella? In the suburbs? Yes to all three questions, brought to you by A Tavola, a new and compelling Italian restaurant in Winchester. And don't worry if you are not that adventurous, as you can find classic dishes too, like Tagliatelle Bolognese.

Chef Vittorio Ettore (pictured above) is the owner of Bistro 5 in Medford, which opened in 1999, and last November he opened a second restaurant, A Tavola. I have long been a fan of Bistro 5 and you will find numerous positive reviews of it on my blog. In addition, it was selected as my Favorite Suburban Restaurant for three years running and I interviewed Chef Ettore for my Culinary Creativity series. So, I was excited to learn about his new restaurant, to see how it differed from Bistro 5. I expected A Tavola to live up to the quality of Bistro 5, though I knew that is not always a given with a chef's second restaurant.

Chef Ettore stated to me that A Tavola is the type of restaurant with a menu like how they eat in Italy. He has roots in Tuscany though stated the menu will contain dishes from a variety of Italian regions. This is an incentive for him to learn more regional Italian cuisine. In the near future, the restaurant will host special Regional Menu dinners, presenting three courses from a specific regional cuisine.

The chef de cuisine at A Tavola is Brendan Wood, formerly of KO Prime and who also worked with Jamie Bissonnette at Eastern Standard. He will the main presence in the kitchen as Chef Ettore splits his time between the two restaurants. The menu recipes are basically a joint effort between the two men and the menu will change seasonally, as it does at Bistro 5. I got to meet Brendan and chat briefly with him during the course of my dinner. He was personable and seemed very meticulous in the kitchen.

It is a small and intimate restaurant, elegant without pretension, and plenty of dark wood colors. There is an open kitchen and six seats directly in front of the kitchen. I sat at this counter, with a front row view of everything happening in the kitchen. As I have said before, I like an open kitchen and think it shows the confidence of the chef and his staff. And if you don't want to watch the kitchen, there are plenty of tables where you can remain out of view. For a weeknight, the restaurant was fairly full, including all of the seats at the chef's counter.

Their drink list is nearly all Italian, except for a couple American beers, and they make their own sodas, in an Italian style. All of their wines are from various regions of Italy and rather than by the glass, wine is available by the quartino or bottle. A quartino contains 1/3 of a bottle (250ml or about 8.5 ounces) and there are 11 options by the quartino ($12-$17). By the bottles, there are 14 whites ($29-$46) and 25 reds ($29-$119), and wine prices appear to range from 2-3 times the usual retail. It is a diverse and interesting selection, with much more variety than you find at some Italian restaurants. It was nice to witness a server allow another guest to taste a few of the wines to help them determine which wine they wanted to order.

I ordered a bottle of the 2010 Anna Maria Abbona "Sori dij But" Dolcetto di Dogliani ($46 & which retails for about $17). This Dolcetto sees no oak so the fresh fruit is prominent, including cherry, blueberry and raspberry with mild herbal notes. It was light, with mild tannins, and had a pleasing finish. A nice start the meal. I also later ordered a quartino of the 2008 Querceto Chianti Classico ($14), a medium bodied wine with nice red fruits accented by some blackberry and spice. It was a nice pairing with the pasta dishes.

The fact the wine list contains only Italian wines does not bother me at all, and I respect their decision to try to maintain a certain ambiance. There are plenty of choices on the list which should be able to please any wine lover. It is not snobby or pretentious to do this, it is simply a way to provide a more authentic Italian dining experience. So expand your palate and delve into the diversity of Italian wines.

The food menu begins with an assortment of Piattini, small plates, and they recommend 2 per person. The Piattini are divided into three groups Vegetali (6 options for $6 each), Salumi (7 options for $7 each) and Pesce (6 options for $7 each). The menu also lists Antipasti (4 options for $8-$10), Le Paste (6 options for $18-$24) and Secondi (5 options for $21-$28). All of the pasta is homemade and each pasta entree is available as a half-portion. They also have gluten free pasta. There are plenty of traditional recipes on the menu, some with their own unique take.

One dish that I did not taste, though I look forward to checking it out on a later visit, is their Seafood Risotto, which is served to 2 or more people for $25 per person. The Risotto can be served as Red, White, Yellow or Black and comes with mussels, shrimp, calamari, scallops and the fish of the day. As it is made to order, it takes 30 minutes to prepare.

I didn't need to decide what to order off the menu as Chef Ettore prepared a tasting menu for me.

Chef Wood prepares most of the charcuterie, and he learned much of his skill from Chef Jamie Bissonnette. The charcuterie is usually displayed on wooden blocks, which you can see above, and Chef Ettore actually made all of those blocks himself. While sitting at the kitchen seats, you have a direct view when they slice the charcuterie. To start the meal, I was served a new charcuterie that hadn't yet made the menu, Wild Boar Mortadella, which is made with pistachios. It was quite tasty, with a nice nice texture, combining the silkiness of the fat with the crunch of the nuts.

Next up was some Stracciatella ($9), a traditional egg drop soup that has been modified a bit. It contains chicken broth soup, Pete & Gerry's Heirloom Sunny Side Up Egg, spinach, parmigiano & thyme. In the first picture above, you see how the fried egg is laid in the bowl along with thinly sliced spinach strips and slivers of cheese. At the table, the stock is then poured atop the bowl, breaking the yolk which then spreads through the soup. The soup was delicious and very savory, yet remaining light, and a fine way to begin your dinner. Even though I generally dislike spinach, I had no problem devouring this soup.

The Melenzane consists of roasted eggplant topped by melted parmigiano and pine nuts and is acompanied by slices of grilled bread. Once again, though I am usually not a big fan of eggplant, this was quite tasty. It was creamy, spreading easily across the bread and the pine nuts added some texture. This is a dish I would order again, even though it is eggplant.

I should also note that if you have a nut allergy, you need to be very careful, as there are nuts, of various types, in many different dishes. As food is generally made to order, it probably would not be a problem to have them leave out those nuts in many dishes.

Onto Burrata and Salumi. The Burrata is from Maplebrook Farm in Vermont, and is topped with sea salt, black pepper, Falconero EVOO and Aged Balsamic. A wondrously creamy and moist burrata with the slight sweetness of the balsamic. Who doesn't like burrata?

The Salumi board contained, from left to right, Lombata (Berkshire Pork Loin Lomo); Cingbiale (Wild Boar Prosciutto), Anatra (Duck prosciutto) and Lamb Sopresatta. The Cingbiale, from the sirloin, was cured with juniper berries and black pepper and that pepper was originally to keep rodents and insects away. The Anatra was topped with shaved foie gras torchon and aged balsamic, a decadent delight that was silky and rich. The salumi came with some pickled veggies, carrots and green beans. The charcuterie had tasty, clean flavors, each with its own distinctive taste.

Seafood charcuterie is up and coming, and A Tavolo is trying it with their Polpo Sopresatta, thinly sliced octopus with pistachio and accompanied by some frisee with a pistachio vinaigrette. It was tender and delicious, with a nutty texture, but the slices fell apart on the board. It seems some other ingredient is needed to make it a bit sturdier.

The Calamari alla Griglia ($7) is grilled Rhode Island squid with radicchio, lemon & EVOO. Another nice dish, the squid having a firm texture though not overly chewy. The grilled radicchio was also quite good.

After the Piattini, is was time for some home made pasta. First up was the Pappardelle Al Cioccolato ($22 full portion), with cocoa pasta, braised rabbit, goat cheese, and almonds. The pasta was cooked perfectly and had a subtle cocoa flavor which complemented the tender, savory rabbit. The creamy goat cheese and crunchy almonds added to the sensory pleasures of this dish. You might not think these ingredients would work well together but they certainly did and this was a winner of a dish. Highly recommended.

Now onto an iconic dish, Tagliatelle Bolognese ($19 full portion). This is one way that I measure an Italian restaurant, by the quality of their Bolognese. This recipe is from Chef Ettore's grandmother and her secret is to use a bit of lemon zest. The ragu is made from beef, pork and pancetta and is topped with shaved parmigiano. The pasta was once again cooked just right, and the ragu was excellent, with a nice depth of flavor and the merest hint of lemon on the finish. Another dish I would highly recommend, and I could use a big bowl right now.

Our final entree was the Porchetta ($28) a Pig Roast accompanied by Roman gnocchi, braised artichoke and grilled Anaheim peppers. The porchetta is a blend of numerous cuts of pork and is slow cooked for about nine hours. When it is served, the dish is covered by a glass dome and smoke is injected into the dome, which gives a light smokiness to the pork. The pork was moist, tender and flavorful, a treat for all lovers of the pig. The gnocchi was almost like a fried polenta and was very compelling as well.

The dessert menu has 5 options ($9-$15) such as the Bunet (Chocolate Custard & Amaretti Cookies with Butterscotch) and Frittelle (sweet house-made ricotta with lemon zest and cocoa nibs). I received the Bomboloni, House-made Fried Dough with Chantilly Cream, Chocolate Hazelnut Sauce & Strawberries. I could have done without the powdered sugar, per my usual complaint, but the rest of it was quite good. The hot "donut" was crisp on the outside with a soft and fluffy interior, and the chocolate and cream made for a hedonistic pleasure. Paired with a glass of 2009 Villa M Brachetto, this was a fine ending to my satisfying dinner.

Service, as expected, was excellent. Overall, I was impressed with the quality of food at A Tavola, and it certainly is at the same caliber as Bistro 5. Chefs Ettore and Wood have created a fine culinary destination in Winchester and it is well worth checking out. I recommend sitting at the chef's table area to watch the staff prepare the various dishes. I will be returning soon to try more of the menu, and should also note that A Tavola is open for Brunch on Sundays. I plan on checking out their brunch too.

(My dinner was complimentary and there was no obligation on my behalf to review the restaurant. In addition, if I did choose to review it, I was under no obligation to say anything in particular, or refrain from any specific comments. Everything was solely at my discretion.)

A Tavola on Urbanspoon


A Mom said...

omg, this is loos so yummy recipe here. I loved Italian foods. thanks for this contents!

catering service in manila said...

The food in those photos looks amazing, I am literally getting hungry right now.