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
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
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.
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
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.