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2005
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Taranta & Mike's Pastry, Boston, MA, tasted on  July 25, 2004  Given how ubiquitous Italian food seems to be in the United States, it's amazing how much of it is not very good. It's simple for me and pasta is my litmus test. I want homemade pasta with a natural texture and flavor in its own right that's perfectly cooked (for me that's just barely past al dente). I want it to have just been tossed with a sauce constructed from extremely fresh ingredients where the flavors are simple and the sauce hasn't been mushed until every bit of texture has been eliminated. In fact, in the best cases not only does the sauce have texture, but it is composed of a small set of flavors - each bright, singular, distinct, as well as integrated. And honestly, I rarely get pasta in this country that meets that bar. And quite frankly Taranta was a mixed experience. But the high notes were the pasta dishes. And some of them were very very good. Onto the meal.

We were served some olive oil with a hot pepper floating in it as well as some bread. The hot pepper was kind of a tease as at the start it was strictly for decoration and hadn't imparted any of its flavor into the oil. It was better once we mushed it up a bit. The bread didn't make a great impression on me. It was cakey, hard, and dry. It too got better over time but only once it was drenched in the oil.

Next up was a Caprese salad. It was fine. The mozarella was fresh but the tomatoes didn't have very much flavor. This bugs me as if the tomatoes don't have flavor why even bother putting this on the menu. Flavorless tomatoes don't belong on any plate of food to be consumed by humans. Kira tried the tomato and thought it was among the best tomatoes she's ever tasted, which is to say - not very good. Kira doesn't like tomatoes. She's insane and clearly never had a good one. We'll have to work on that.

After the salad we had (what has always seemed to me to be) a unique Boston item - Fish Chowder. This version also had leeks, potatoes, and yellow peppers. I thought it was thin on flavor though the spice on the finish was nice. Steve thought "not enough fish and too much potato". Debbie and Kira liked it. I added salt. That made my soup salty and still not flavorful.

The seafood dishes were ok. The shrimp was slightly bitter and dry and I'm still not a huge broccoli raab fan. The octopus had a nice red sauce - Steve and Kira liked it. And the mussels were decent with a nice wine sauce.

At this point, you may be wondering why the hell I'm even writing about this place. I had honestly almost given up on our meal at this point. And to be honest, the more average food that showed up the more it was going to take a pretty strong finish to be able to say anything redeeming about Taranta. And shockingly, the meal basically completely turned around at this point.

First up in this "second wind" was the Calzoncinni. The flaky crust was nice, light, and buttery. But the lamb filling was particularly great. It was warm, savory, and lamby but not too strong. Delicious.

Even better however were the pasta dishes. The Homemade Pappardelle with Grandma's Sauce stopped me in my tracks. The pasta was good but the sauce was awesome. Bright, fresh, simple, amazing. Sweet and savory in perfect balance with a hint of roasted garlic on the finish. Yay grandma! I would eat this dish every day if I could.

We also got the Pappardelle with Prosciutto, Broccoli Raab, and Brown Butter Sauce. Great. The pasta was covered in a buttery, smokey, thinner sauce, that was simple and delicious.

I also enjoyed the Lobster Ravioli. The sauce was nice - lobstery. slight bittery undertone. Kira liked it more and more as it went on. Debbie liked it from the start.

The Gnocchi was decent. The sauce and meat were both enjoyable. Brisket and south american spiciness. funny combo but good.

If we were enjoying our pasta too much, next up was the tuna dish to remind us that Taranta is basically only good at making pasta. The tuna dish was random and all over the place.

I'm really torn about recommending a restaurant that's so inconsistent, but their hits seemed so localized to one spot on the menu that going there and only ordering pasta seemed like it could be a reliable method for having a very enjoyable meal. If that's not enough for you, do what we did and bring your own dessert - specifically cannolis from Mike's Pastry.

Mike's is down the street from Taranta. If you're going to the North End in Boston for Italian food it's really not ok to leave without some high quality Italian pastry. Kira's absolute favorites are from Mike's Pastry. The cream was not too sweet. And even though I typically prefer plain, I did enjoy the Chocolate Chip version. I think Michael has his own idea of what's best (hopefully he'll post a comment with his perspective). He and Kira can duke it out over who has the best cannolis.

     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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