Friday, February 15, 2008


Because it seems so easy to make Italian food at home, Mr Minx and I seldom eat in Italian restaurants. But I thought it might make a nice change from the usual if we chose someplace in Little Italy for Valentine's Day. I didn't want to go to the red-sauce places of my childhood (Sabatino's, Chiapparelli's, Vellegia's); perusing, I found Boccaccio. Not only did the Northern Italian menu sound yum, they had free valet parking, always a plus in Little Italy on a holiday or weekend.

The place doesn't look like much from the outside, and the entranceway is a bit dingy, but the dining rooms were cozy, with light walls simply decorated with floral prints, and heavy white cloths on the tables. We were seated next to the wine room, which was appealingly lined with bottles of the good stuff. After I was seated, the maitre d' brought me a long-stemmed rose and joked that my husband had requested it specially. As did the male companion of every woman in the place. The rose had little scent, but the air was otherwise perfumed with the intoxicating fragrance of freshly-made strong coffee.

The menu was a special one for Valentine's Day, with some regular menu items and some new ones. I loved that it wasn't prix fixe, as I find that most places charge up the wazoo for regular menu items that could be had for far less $ on a non-holiday. (Sorry, I like going out to eat for Valentine's and New Year's but I am not a sucker.) We decided on a collection of seafood dishes, starting with Mr Minx's lobster bisque and my calamari. The bisque was a beautiful example of the genre, a true bisque and not a flour-thickened cream soup. It was a deep orange and strongly flavored with lobster stock. Delicious. My calamari was served with both a spicy harissa aioli and a light marinara. The generous portion was lightly breaded and even more lightly cooked to the perfect texture. A tiny bit salty, but it was probably the best-cooked calamari I have eaten.

For entrees hubby chose black and white taglierini served with mussels, clams (both in shell) and calamari in a herby garlicky olive oil-based sauce. Although the portion seemed small (at least by Minx standards), the squid ink pasta made the dish very rich and filling, and the sauce was delectable when mopped up with selections from the bread basket.

I had the jumbo shrimp and scallops with vegetable risotto in a pesto pistachio sauce. The dish was almost too beautiful to eat with its creamy emerald sauce topped with three large shrimp and four perfectly cooked, barely-opaque scallops. The risotto came as a small timbale wrapped in thinly sliced zucchini. The chef clearly thinks presentation is as important as flavor, a sign that the meal was made with care.

We washed down our seafood with a lovely Pinot Grigio.

For dessert, we had the house-made tiramisu, a light affair with spongy cake and delicate flavors. Also tried was the profiteroles filled with caramel-flavored cream and topped with homemade chocolate sauce. Mr Minx had some of that aromatic coffee; my sip revealed it to be way above par for restaurant coffee and I wish I could have had a cup for myself. Unfortunately coffee after wine, even decaf, keeps me awake at night.

I really liked the old-fashioned quality of the place. Our waiter had a mellifluous Italian accent and was polite and charming, as were our busboys. Water was refilled constantly, and we never felt rushed during the entire meal. We will definitely go back to Boccaccio in the future.
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