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A Little Bit About a Lot of Things

A lifestyle blog with a focus on my food adventures

I think that a good dining experience hinges on not just good food, but ambiance, good service, good plating-all of your senses have to be stimulated. That said, my theme for this week is going to be night and day.

We went to Dante on a Friday night at 8pm and then Sunday at 5:30pm. Night and day. Dante is located in the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge. I know what you are thinking, “a restaurant in a hotel? how good could it really be?” Answer-excellent. I found out that Dante’s sister restaurant is Il Casale in Belmont, and I love love love that place!!

On Friday night the couple that walked in ahead of us didn’t have a reservation and they were told that it would be an hour wait. The good news is that they serve the full dinner menu at the bar and lounge area. We are seated right away-the dining area is in the back, you have to walk through the bar to get to it. There is an open dining area on the left with high ceilings and full length windows. The dining room on the right can be sectioned off by a heavy curtain and used as a private dining area if needed-but it is smaller with a lower ceiling. There is also the option of outdoor dining on the patio.

We get seating in the larger, open dining area at a two top next to the window. There are a few open tables, but for all intensive purposes the place is packed. Looking out of the window you have a great view of the city skyline and the Charles River. In addition, there were a ton of bugs. I know you can’t prevent bugs, and hey-they’re outside, but really, when I am trying to have a nice dinner-the last thing I want to think about are huge creepy crawly bugs.

Our waiter arrives and he looks like he has come straight from L.A. Perfectly cropped hair, freshly shaven, tan, model-esque, complete with two buttons of his shirt undone. Maybe that’s ok in an outdoor posh cafe, but when I’m at a nice restaurant-I don’t want to be looking at your dark curly chest hair coming out of your shirt. No offense.

We were going to come on Thursday but that morning Buy with me came out with a coupon that was pay $15 and get $35 worth of food and drink, so we went on Friday instead. This gave us the opportunity to try a little bit of everything.

We start off with the arancini, the mini maile and the melanzane, in the sfizi, or small course category. Arancini are risotto balls that are deep fried, most places they come with a red sauce but at Dante they come with a sweet truffle honey drizzle. The combination of sweet and salty, crunchy and melty goodness is amazing. At $5 for 4 pieces, I could have a few of these for dinner. The melanzane was tasty-eggplant in a tomato sauce. Most places that I have been to the eggplant is in large slices and is presented like a lasagna-this was more of a pureed style. The mini maile is little pork burger with Vermont cheddar, maple sugar and pancetta. One word. Yum. The combination of flavors works so well together, there are so many layers: the saltiness of the pancetta, the sweetness from the maple sugar, the sharpness of the cheese…and this is all in a ‘burger’ the size of a tennis ball.

You can get the pasta entrees in a half or full size portion-get the half if you are a light eater or you plan on also getting a meat course. The full size entrees are just enough-they don’t overwhelm you with 5lbs of pasta but the pasta they serve you is filling. My companion gets the ravioli with ricotta, Vermont grass fed beef brisket and sugo Genovese ($14/$26). The brisket is so moist and tender it melts in your mouth. The ravioli is wonderful-all the pasta is made in house. The stock that the pasta sits in is quite flavorful as well. Side note, they do have gluten free pasta available and many of their menu options can be made gluten free (such as the sogliola, bistecca, agnello, and pollo). I get the chitarra, spaghetti ‘alla carbonara’ guanciale,  organic egg and Parmigiano Reggiano ($10/$19). The pasta is perfectly cooked and the sauce is flavorful, not too heavy as some carbonaras can be. There is also a great sauce to pasta ratio, some places drench your pasta in sauce, but at Dante, there was just the perfect amount.

For dessert we get the gelato ($4 per scoop) and the cassata ($10). The flavors of gelato and sorbetto change often. We had the burnt caramel and the pistachio. The cassata is a cake made with anise….and anise to me is like cilantro-either people love it or hate it. Anise has a licorice taste to it-not for me. The ice cream was so creamy-the pistachio was my favorite!

So the night was good-the service was good-the food was excellent-I would give it a B. We went back on Sunday night and had a whole different experience.

Our waiter was what we used to call a ‘lifer’ when I used to work in a restaurant years ago. He is a little bit older, maybe 40’s or early 50’s-and this is his career. He isn’t the usual college student or recent grad that is waiting tables to pay for expenses at school. Usually ‘lifers’ can be found in high end restaurants and provide an excellent level of service. There are 4 of us for dinner, we sit in the smaller room with only a few other people in the room. This is a welcome change from Friday night where we were sitting next to a table of 12 ladies celebrating a birthday.

We order the calamari, the mini manzo, the stracchino, and the ricotta bruschetta. They come out and we received the cotechino in place of the stracchino-the waiter apologizes and offers us the cotechino gratis.

The cotechino ($5) is a rich sausage cooked under ask with charred fennel. The sausage has a nice smokey flavor to it with a little bit of spice. The fennel is tender but still has a little bite to it.

The mini manzo ($5) is a little beef burger with buffalo mozzarella, smoked pepper aioli, arugula, and fried cippolini. The burger was tasty-everything it says it is, but if I had to choose between this and the pork burger from the first time, I would go for the pork burger (and note that it is not a pulled pork burger-the pork is in a patty just like this burger).

The calamari ($5) were ok-they were clean, light and crisp but there wasn’t any substance-they could have been fried onion rings.

The stracchino ($5) are soft cow’s milk cheese from Lombardia on crostini with cucumber. When I saw these I thought of finger sandwiches you would serve at afternoon tea. Not my favorite of the choices tonight-I just didn’t like the flavor of the cheese-but the bread was buttery crisp and the cucumbers were refreshing.

The ricotta bruschetta ($5) is made with house made ricotta cheese, salsa Genovese, and toasted pine nuts. The bruschetta was good-albeit a bit heavy on the cheese.

Our entrees arrive well timed:the ravioli, the lemon sole, the grilled bavette steak and the grilled lamb chops.

The agnello-or the grilled lamb chops came on a spring pea pesto over a smoked eggplant puree ($28). The meat was flavorful and well cooked-bonus was that it came off the bone.

The ravioli with brisket was good the second time around-true to form.

I had the sogliola, the lemon sole, with orange, pistachio and grilled asparagus($24). The fish was rolled up into rosettes, and you really needed to push it around in the lemon sauce to soak up all the good flavor. The fish was cooked perfectly-it was a nice light summer meal.

The bistecca was a grilled grass fed bavette steak with truffle butter ($26). How can you go wrong with truffle butter? For those of you who are unfamiliar with the bavette steak, it is a small cut from the short loin that is like a flank or skirt steak. It has great flavor and texture to it, and feels like a lighter steak (you know what I’m talking about, when you have a huge steak and it feels like a rock in the bottom of your stomach…or is that from all the mashed potatoes??)

We ordered a few desserts to share at the table. Again, the gelato ($4/scoop) in pistacho (left) and hazelnut (upper right). We also had the lemon sorbet to cleanse the palette. The ice cream comes in cute little tea cups.

I can’t remember the name of this cake but it was chocolate cake soaked in some kind of alcohol-there was supposed to be cherries in it but we couldn’t see/taste them. The cake had a creamy, whipped center that reminded me of like a devil dog or something (but better).

Finally, the frittelle, Venetian style fried dough with a selection of dipping sauces ($9). I think that they are better here than the version that they offer at Il Casale. The dough comes out warm and lightly sugared. It comes with caramel, white chocolate vanilla sauce, milk chocolate and berry sauce. SO good. And with the left over sauce we used some on our gelato-so an extra bonus!

This overall meal was excellent. The food was excellent, the service was excellent (well timed, available and present but not hovering), and the ambiance was excellent. I would give my experience here on night #2 an ‘A’. The change in service and ambiance upped the grade from a B to an A. Just goes to show what going the extra mile can do to shape your experience.

You can park your car in the Sonesta garage and Dante will validate you ($10).

Restaurant Dante

40 Edwin H Land Blvd. Cambridge, MA 617.497.4200

www.restaurantdante.com

reservations can be made on opentable.com

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