Friday, April 16, 2010

Taranta: A Taste of Peru

Passionate chefs intrigue me, enticing me to visit their restaurants, to experience their culinary talent. Last week, at both the Spoonful of Ginger and Chefs for a Cure events, I met and chatted with Chef Jose Duarte of Taranta in the North End. Besides enjoying the dishes he prepared for those events, I was also found Chef Duarte to be a fascinating chef, knowledgeable, dedicated to sustainability and very passionate.

Thus, I really wanted to visit his restaurant, and did so last evening with my friend Dale. Located at one end of Hanover Street, it was fairly busy when we arrived, and stayed busy during our dinner. The street-level dining area is small, and can feel a bit cramped as some of the tables are very close together. There is a second floor dining area though, and in the summer they have patio dining.

When I read the menu, what first struck me was the font used, the EcoFont. Yes, it might seem a very strange thing to note, but this was the first time I had ever seen this font. What happens, is that the font has tiny holes in letters, mainly noticeable in the larger letters. This leads to using about 25% less ink during printing, saving money and also being more eco-conscious.

Chef Duarte is very eco-conscious and even has a blog, Going Green, which details the way his restaurant has gone "green," as well as providing advice and suggestions for others to do the same. He continues seeking new ways to improve, cognizant of the financial balancing act that must always be considered.

Their wine list contains only organic, biodynamic and sustainably farmed wines, most from Italy, Argentina and Chile. There are plenty of choices available for $30-$50 per bottle. We chose the 2006 Dona Paula Shiraz-Malbec, from Argentina ($38). This was a tasty wine, with nice fruit and some underlying spice and smoke. The only negative was that it was a bit too warm for a red when we first received it.

The food menu has plenty of compelling choices, including Antipasti e Primi Piatti (6 choices for $13-$15), Pasta (6 choices for $19-$26, though also available as smaller plates), Insalate (2 choices for $9-$10), Secondi di Pesce, Pollo e Carne (7 choices for $27-36) and Dessert (6 choices for $8-$10). There are usually specials each evening too. This is not an inexpensive restaurant, but portions are very generous and the food is high quality, so you are getting your money's worth.

The cuisine is a blend of Southern Italy and Peru, and I think it works very well. You probably don't know most of the Peruvian ingredients used in the dishes, but the menu provides a helpful glossary, describing each ingredient. Learn about Huacatay, Pallares, Rocoto, Chicha de jora, and more. I don't have lots of experience with Peruvian cuisine, beyond ceviche and some of the fusion cuisine of Nobu, but after my experience at Taranta, I want to experience much more.

Dale began his meal with one of the specials, a Spinach Salad with fried goat cheese and walnuts. He very much enjoyed the salad, the greens with just the right amount of dressing. Plus, he wanted even more of the creamy goat cheese.

I began with the Calzoncini Fritti ($13), three mini calzoni; leeks and mozzarella, beef tenderloin and baccala. The calzoni were crisp and flaky, and my favorite of the three was the beef tenderloin, which was filled with tender, flavorful meat. What impressed me most was the spices, which were bold without being overwhelming, and mixed both familiar and strange (but good) flavors together. Spices would be a dominant theme in this meal, the dishes spiced with restraint but still bright with interesting flavors.

I went for a second course, a smaller portion of the Ravioli Ripieni d'Aragosta ($26/full portion), ravioli of lobster and crab with a mascarpone cherry tomato sauce served with shrimp. The lobster and crab flavors were prominent, and the sauce was fantastic, just an incredible taste which would be a great sauce for many different pasta dishes. It reminded me somewhat of some orange sauces I have had before. I even sopped up some of the sauce with my bread. Plus, the dish had two large, plump shrimps which were also cooked just right. It may not be a unique dish, but is was very well executed.

For his entree, Dale selected the Orechiette Con Salssicchia ($24), orecchiette pasta with aji Amarillo spicy Abruzzese sausage, broccoli raab, and cherry tomatoes. Aji Amarillo is a Yellow Peruvian pepper. He also greatly enjoyed this dish, and I tasted some of it too. The pasta was cooked perfectly, and the sausage was delicious.

I went for a carnivore's delight, the Braised Short Rib ($35), an all natural short rib braised with Panca pepper, served with yellow Peruvian potato puree, and watercress salad. Panca is a medium-hot pepper with a smoky, berry flavor with fruit overtones. This was a huge chunk of meat, sure to satisfy any appetite. Extremely tender, lots of smoky flavors with hints of fruit. The potato puree was also tasty, with a more unique flavor. It was a bit more gritty than a usual potato, though that was not a bad thing, and also had a bit more of an earthier taste. This was meat and potatoes elevated to a higher level.

Chef Duarte sent over an extra dish for us to try, one of their signature dishes, the Costoleta di Maiale con Canna di Zucchero e Rocoto ($34), a brined double cut pork chop with a sugar cane – rocoto pepper glaze served with a yucca piatella and a sauté of giant Peruvian Corn, spinach and caramelized onions. This was another huge hunk of meat, what Dale called a Flintstones-sized piece of meat. The pork was moist, tender and flavorful, with an excellent crust on the exterior. The glaze/sauce was superb, sweet with being cloying, and bursting with flavor. The yucca piatella was also quite good, a bit starchier than mashed potato but still smooth with its own unique taste.

I barely had room for dessert, but we did share a couple dishes: a Chocolate Soufle Cake ($10) and Guavannolis ($8). The warm cake was rich and chocolatey, without being overly sweet. A nice choice for chocolate lovers. I was a little wary of the Guavannolis, which are guava and ricotta mini-cannolis with pistachio brittle. Guava is often not one of my favorite fruits, but I have to say I loved these cannolis. The guava flavor was mild, and blended well with the other flavors, including the pistachio at each end of the cannoli. The cannoli shell was fresh, crisp and flaky. Frankly, these were some of the best cannolis I have in some time.

Service was excellent, and overall the dinner was top notch. The food was plentiful, flavorful and creative. The use of the Peruvian ingredients definitely enhanced the dishes. And the restaurant's eco-conscious ways provides another reason to support this place. I will be returning here to try more of the menu and give it my highest recommendation.

210 Hanover St
Boston, MA 02113
Phone: (617) 720-0052

Taranta on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Hampers said...

Nice blog with nice picture of food that can be paired with wine. It was nice going through your blog.