September 19th, 2008

Dante, Cambridge

R and I had an excellent meal at Dante tonight. I was doing some restaurant research for a friend and I read about how great Dante’s steak is. It also just won Best of Boston for Italian this year. Dante is in the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge. This worried me; hotel restaurants have a captive audience so they do not need to try as hard. The space is hotel standard; all muted tones of beige and maroon, nothing offensive, or terribly interesting. We had a nice view of the river. Dante also has a patio area that would be great on a warm summer evening.


The amuse bouche was a crostini with a mushroom pate topped with a quarter of fresh fig. It was a nice combination of the savory mushroom and the sweet earthiness of the fig. I think the bread basket was the ubiquitous Iggy’s Francese.


We both had half orders of pasta to start; he had the truffle potato gnocchi and I had the spaghetti a la chitarra. R really liked his gnocchi. He said that it was “not quite as good as Sage, but head and shoulders above all others.” It was served with a beef carpaccio on the side, which was just weird. The two components seemed to have no connectedness. Maybe the chef was thinking about the earthiness of the truffles pairing with the earthiness of the raw beef, but it didn’t work for me. I liked both parts, just not together.


Dante is known for their spaghetti alla carbonara, which they only serve during lunch. The spaghetti a la chitarra is a variation, with crabmeat. It was absolutely delicious. They use guanciale, a bacon made from the pig’s jowls instead of the belly. It gives it even more porky goodness. I also love crab, so it was a perfect match for me.


The steak did not disappoint. It looks from their menu that they switch the cut of beef around, but the sauce and accompaniments remain the same. It was hanger steak last night and it was fantastic. It was done to a perfect medium rare. The steak was tender and flavorful and the caramelized shallots on top made the dish. I declare this to be the best steak, outside a steak house, that I have had in ages. It came with a mountain of herbed fries. Sadly, the fries were past their prime. I suspect they sat in the kitchen waiting for my steak to finish and got cold. It’s too bad, because I see the potential in the fries; they were hand cut from real potatoes, fried to a golden brown and well seasoned. Plus, I really enjoyed the “ketchup” that was served with them, a truffled tomato sauce that was sweet and tangy.


R ordered the lamb. On the menu it is described as “charred leg of lamb, native plums, baby arugula, goats milk ricotta, chilled mint and fregola salad,” What came was a large rectangular plate with 6 bamboo skewers of small squares of lamb (it looked like beef teriyaki. Pupu platter, anyone?) and at the other end was a dish with the fregola (basically a large couscous) topped with a wedge of plum and a round of cheese. It was another disconnected dish. I think if they had incorporated the plum into a sauce for the lamb it would have been great. That said the lamb was tender and flavorful and the salad was good, just very disconnected.


After enjoying both the apps and entrees, we had to try dessert (oh the things I do for my blog J ) R’s vanilla panna cotta was fine. I thought the texture was a little too plastic, but he liked it. The ginger ice cream soda had homemade ginger ice cream with ginger beer topped with a thin cookie and a caramel mousse flecked with black volcanic salt. The soda glass was also rimmed with a thick, delicious caramel. It was different, interesting and a great combination of flavors.


The service was attentive and friendly. They refilled the bread basket three times, even though we didn’t ask them too; the baskets weren’t empty and we didn’t touch the third round. R said, “it’s like the Grill 23 of bread service.”


I really enjoyed dinner, I’ll definitely be back.