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RUSTIC TRADITION

MEETS FINE DINING

by Rachel Blumenthal
photographed by Tino Iantosca

I
n the small ancient village of Prezza, perched in the table. Many diners are wearing jackets and ties, while oth-
mountainous central region of Italy, the diet lacks ers are in jeans. It is this balance between comfort and class
diversity. Villagers rely heavily on seasonal vegeta- that makes dining at Prezza such an enjoyable experience.
bles, pork and polenta. Chef Anthony Caturano’s The bread basket arrives; a modern steel container
grandmother was born there, and in honor of his filled with homemade white bread and focaccia to be
family’s heritage, Caturano mixes rustic staples with a dipped in a generous portion of olive oil. Soon after, we
gourmet touch at his North End restaurant, Prezza. receive our appetizers. The first is a plate covered from end
The ambiance is hardly reminiscent of a tiny village: to end with a long, thin slice of prosciutto. It’s topped with
smooth jazz, a glossy hard wood floorn and a mix of im- three thick slices of buffalo mozzarella, roasted red pep-
pressionist and modern paintings accent the beige interi- pers, olive oil and aged balsamic, and it’s bursting with fla-
or. Tables are lit by candles in red votives, but the lighting vor. The mild mozzarella complements the salty prosciutto
isn’t so dim that you can’t read the menu. The attentive nicely, and the peppers and balsamic add a hint of sweet-
waiters refold your napkins each time you get up from the ness. Next comes the crispy shrimp appetizer: three jumbo
shrimp, and I do mean jumbo, sit atop a bed of Italian slaw, ning – a slow-braised lamb shank with mushroom polenta
and cherry pepper aioli is drizzled over the shrimp, which accompanied by a watercress and feta salad. Nicholas tells
are wrapped in a crispy nest of phyllo . Our waiter, Nicho- us that the lamb shank at Prezza is always braised for at least
las, tells us that this is Prezza’s signature appetizer, and it five hours, and its tenderness confirms it. A knife isn’t nec-
has been on the menu since day one. Not surprisingly, it’s essary. The mushroom polenta – the solid, baked kind, not
delicious, although I get a bit of a shock upon noticing two the mushy kind – is delicious, which is a pleasant surprise
beady black eyes staring up at me. My dining companions for me. I typically avoid mushrooms at all costs, but upon
assure me that this is the real Italian way of serving shrimp my dining companions’ urging, I take a bite and find that
– leaving the head on – although most North End restau- the flavors mesh well together and the texture is enjoyable,
rants don’t follow this tradition. Prezza admirably remains similar to potato kugel.
true to its roots. Although I doubt any of us have much room for another
Next, we sample two of Prezza’s handmade pasta dish- course, dessert chef Brittany Suhan brings us two delectable
es – one is a hearty gnocchi in a Bolognese sauce contain- goodies: limoncello cheesecake and chocolate bread pud-
ing tender chunks of sirloin, and the other is sweet potato ding. The cheesecake is a dense, heavenly mixture of cream
raviolini in a brown butter and sage sauce, topped with cheese, mascarpone and limoncello sitting on a biscotti crust
generous bits of crab meat and chopped hazelnuts. The and topped with a vanilla glaze, lemon zest and fresh blue-
gnocchi has a rustic feel to it, especially due to the sirloin, berries. The dark and white chocolate bread pudding could
and the fact that it is made with “a little bit of love,” ac- be a meal on its own. Regular bread isn’t good enough for
cording to Nicholas. The sauce contains pecorino cheese Suhan’s bread pudding. Instead, she uses croissants. And she
and porcini cream, and its thick texture goes well with the doesn’t stop there. The bread pudding is topped with a cap-
small homemade gnocchi without being too overwhelming. puccino sauce and chocolate marble ice cream. This dessert
The raviolini is more of a delicate dish, and it is so sweet is dense, moist and utterly sinful, especially the dark choco-
that it could almost pass for a dessert. The hazelnuts add late base. I’m glad I found room for a few bites.
a satisfying crunch and the brown butter sauce is silky and Although we didn’t drink wine with our meal, I should
smooth. Prezza’s pasta dishes can be ordered as either an mention Prezza’s impressive wine list, which is thirty pages
appetizer or an entrée. I could certainly make a meal out long and boasts a 2008 Wine Spectator Award of Excel-
of an appetizer portion of the raviolini and a huge bowl lence. The list includes wines from all over the world, espe-
of gnocchi. Another time, perhaps. We have some other cially from Italy, France and the United States.
entrées to taste. If you’re looking for a fine dining experience in the North
The first entrée is a large piece of roasted halibut End that is classy without pretension, try Prezza. Even the
served with sunchoke puree and red wine braised lentils, most gourmet dishes contain ingredients that bring to mind
which are supposed to bring good luck. The halibut is full the rustic old mountain village of Prezza, and these hearty
of flavor, and the sunchoke puree has a light enough tex- italian flavors are what allow the menu to strike a balance
ture that it doesn’t weigh down the fish. Our final entrée between comfort food and epicurean delight.
immediately becomes the table’s favorite dish of the eve-
In the small ancient village of Prezza,
perched in the mountainous central
region of Italy, the diet lacks diversity.
Villagers rely heavily on seasonal
vegetables, pork and polenta.