Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rialto, Cambridge, MA

I don't have enough superlatives in my vocabulary to write about how wonderful my meal was last night.  It certainly will go down in my memory as one of the best meals I have had.  The food, service, ambiance, and attention to detail all combined to make for a fantastic experience from start to finish at Jody Adam's Cambridge restaurat, Rialto at the Charles Hotel.

I arrived there at around 5:45 and found a cozy bar stool in the corner to wait for Dan to join me.  I had initially only planned on attending their complimentary wine tasting, which takes place from 5:30 to 7:30 on Wednesdays.  Dan and I were going to eat a light bite at the bar after he finished up his teaching from their affordable bar menu, but I decided that having a meal in the dining room was long overdue, being that Rialto is such a mainstay in the Boston/Cambridge culinary scene.  My birthday is coming up soon, so I figured a little impromptu splurge dining experience could be justified.

I had met Brad Nugent, sommelier, earlier in the day at the Austrian wine tasting event that day.  I was at once reminded of how small Boston is.  Brad was congenial and solicitous, asking about my trip to the museum earlier that afternoon and pouring me two tastes of wine: Crios Torrontes and Torbreck Shiraz.  Both of the wines were tasty, and I couldn't believe that this is offered every Wednesday for free.  Some complimentary appetizers arrived, and a few minutes later, chef Jody Adams herself came over.

I was at once intimidated and delighted to speak with her.  Though her appearance is demure and unassuming, she is quite a celebrity here in Boston.  In fact, she will appear on Top Chef Masters this Spring on the Bravo network.  She has read my blog, and I felt so flattered that she took the time to offer a personal greeting and welcome to the restaurant.  I also spoke with Rebecca, the events coordinator, who was equally as charming and hospitable.  I would be delighted to serve them if they all came to my restaurant anytime, and I will take this opportunity to personally invite them all to do so!

I remained at the bar after finishing off my complimentary wine and had a Manzanilla Sherry while I waited for Dan.  I was happy to see Manzanilla represented on their list, being one of my favorite styles of Sherry... well, OK, I love all Sherry!  Once Dan arrived we were seated in the beautiful dining room.  It is decorated in pale greens, gold, and orange referencing the Tuscan countryside.  We were given a nice table in a window that had some shiny glitter stars sprinkled on it for my birthday.  Did I mention I love shiny things?

Stacy, our server, was kind enough to serve our meal to us in a "continental style," which is our preference, though many restaurants refuse to honor this.  Dan and I like to try lots of different things, but we share each plate one at a time so food does not get cold, and there is no awkward passing of the plates back and forth.  It's tough for timing in the kitchen and requires a patient chef, but the Rialto staff delivered and each course was served hot and delicious, one after the other.

We started with a terrine of tongue and other various organ meats - maybe some beef cheek and possibly chicken hearts if I were to guess.  It was served with a classic tonnato sauce, apples, frisée, and fried capers.  The salty, vinegary fried capers were an especially a nice touch and I think I could have eaten them like movie theater popcorn at a double feature given the opportunity.  There was a delicious harmony of sweet, salty, savory, and bitter on the plate.  I wish my pictures did the food more justice, but there is only so much you can do with an iPhone in a dimly lit setting.  I should also mention that the plates were split for us by the kitchen, so the portion would actually be double what you're seeing in all but the chicken at the end of the meal.

Our next course was a poached egg with homemade pasta, pork belly, and a porcini mushroom broth.  The broth was poured at the table in the European tradition making for a lovely presentation.  The pasta cooked in the broth right then and there to a perfect al dente texture.  I stirred in my egg which enriched the broth giving it body and adding to its intense sweet mushroomy flavor.  We greedily ate the soup and practically licked our bowls clean.  Mushrooms, pork belly, and egg, and noodles are always a winning combination in my book.

Third was a gnocchi made from ricotta with finely minced walnuts, quince puree, and what I think was a little ribbon of aged Balsamic vinegar around the edge of the dish.  It was another beautiful presentation and I admired the unique texture of the gnocchi.  They were creamy and mild in flavor, and had a certain fun squeaky snap to them that reminded me of fresh cheese curds - I guess that's probably not too far from what they actually are.  The walnuts were a perfect crunchy textural contrast that made the dish.

Our penultimate savory course, and maybe the star of the night, was Tuna with farrow, beets, and nuts.  There were many toasty, salty, and tart items on the plate like blood oranges vinaigrette, Swiss Chard, what I think was toasted Nori, persimmons, and the farro, which tasted like it had a good amount of lemon juice in it.  All of those things served to accent the natural sweetness of the Tuna making it the centerpiece of the dish flavor wise.  It was a great piece of fish, seared just right, properly flavored, tender, and a beautiful color and I was glad to have this accentuated by all of the various components offered with it.

Dan and I both loved our last course, which was chicken, humbly offered up on Rialto's stellar menu.  I feel that chicken really shows the level of a restaurant, so we almost always order it when it's offered.  It can be bland and terrible in the hands of an amateur, or tender and flavorful in the hands of a great chef.  The chicken served to us at Rialto was superb.  The breast was roasted, juicy, and nicely salted and the thigh had been braised and was fork tender and rich in poultry flavor.  The fried bacon chip, grilled radicchio, arancini, truffled jus, and cauliflower puree were all great accompaniments on such a classic dish.

We washed our meal down with some lovely Italian wines, of which Rialto has many.  Dan started with a glass of Arneis, in honor of his chamber music group, and we drank a Refosco by Dorigo for dinner.  I was happy to see Dorigo on the list.  The wines are some of my favorites from North-Eastern Italy and they are rarely offered in Boston.  Brad nicely decanted the Refosco for us and kept our glasses at the right level over the course of the evening.  The wine had plenty of fruit and spice to stand up to all of the hearty wintry fare we were eating and made us feel cozy on such a cold rainy night.

Before we moved on to dessert, a complimentary cheese and fruit course arrived from the kitchen.  We loved our blu di capra, a goat's milk blue from Piedmont, with the delicious '98 Rieussec that Brad chose to go along with it.  The combination was stunning, and it became obvious to us why Sauternes is classically paired with blue cheese.  I was going to order a cheese course anyway, so it was a nice surprise that one arrived without us asking for it.  I think they may have read my mind.

Desserts were a nice end to the meal.  They arrived with a candle, and happy birthday written on the plates.  I had a delicious and gooey, chocolate, caramel and nut tart and Dan had a chocolate cake with a runny liquid chocolate center.  They were perfectly simple and just what we wanted after a rich meal of so many complex flavors and textures.  They made us feel at home, were very satisfying, and well-executed.  A friend that I had seen earlier in the bar had arranged to have some Madeira sent over with our desserts and we enjoyed it immensely as an end to a meal full of wonderful food and wine.

What a great evening all around!  Thanks to Jody Adams and staff for everything!  You couldn't have made my impromptu birthday supper all the more special.  We will be seeing you again sooner rather than later for more of the same.


  1. I went to Rialto's bar this past weekend for a quick bite and I'm consistently amazed at how thoughtful the flavors are of each dish. I haven't made it to the dining room yet but after your review, I'll have to give it a try. And yes, the Wednesday wine tasting is such a great freebie and Brad Nugent is so thoughtful and accomodating. Thanks for sharing

  2. thanks for reading, and I know your meal will be as wonderful as ours was!

  3. Drooling in Zachary. Went to Walk-Ons in Baton Rouge today and had a hamburger.

  4. next time you come visit, we can go!