Boston's Piattini serves big Italian taste on little dishes
When people ask me for recommendations of where to eat in Boston, I don't often steer them toward Newbury Street. Restaurants there are fairly pricy, and you don't usually get the kind of bang for your buck that you can find a little farther off the beaten path. These restaurants tend to belong to one of two categories: either so-so food for $10 or a fancy dinner for $30; there isn't very much in between. But, there is one place that breaks this rule of thumb: you can't go wrong stopping by Piattini, a small self-described "wine cafÃ©" located in the heart of Back Bay.
Piattini's name comes from the Italian for "little plates," a phrase that goes to the heart of the restaurant's concept. If you like Italian food served tapas-style, this is the place for you. It serves small portions of all kinds of dishes, perfect for sharing at a more reasonable cost than the fare at many of the restaurant's neighbors. Customers can sample different varieties of Piattini's dishes or as appetizers to their entrÃ©es.
When I arrived at Piattini, the first thing I noticed was the intimate dining room. There aren't a lot of tables, so if you're planning on going during peak hours, you might want to call ahead. The lighting is dim but not dark, providing an ambience that's perfect for a date or a get-together with friends.
The restaurant's staff was very, very friendly: some places treat you as a second-class citizen if you don't order wine or fancy entrÃ©es, but our server at Piattini was incredibly warm and accommodating the whole time my dining companion and I were there. We were not rushed us so she could turn over the table or pressured to order more than we planned.
We decided to split a few different piattini so we could sample the most food possible, something I'd definitely recommend doing. My favorite dish by far was the gnocchi ($7.95). They're made with spinach instead of potatoes and come served in a pesto cream sauce with tomatoes. The gnocchi were light but a bit on the chewy side (I prefer them that way, but traditionalists might object), and the sauce was so good I could have eaten it with a spoon all by itself. The portion was also bigger than most of the other dishes.
The other pasta dish I tried was the ravioli di zucca gialla ($7.95), a butternut squash ravioli served in a sauce made with apple cider, brown sugar and sage. I wasn't sure what to expect since the dish is one I would normally expect to see in the fall instead of the spring, but I was pleasantly surprised.
The brown sugar in the sauce complemented the dish perfectly. It was a sweet balance to the savory notes the squash and sage brought out, and it made the whole thing seem like the perfect comfort food regardless of the season. The portion size is quite a bit smaller than the gnocchi's (you only get four ravioli as opposed to a decent-sized plate of the other), so you may want to keep that in mind if you're particularly hungry.
To me, the pastas far outshone the two other dishes I tried, although there wasn't anything on the table I didn't like. The Italian sausage featured in the sausage and polenta ($9.95) was very good, although I wouldn't have minded it a bit spicier.
I really enjoyed the roasted red peppers and onions served alongside it, but I could have gone without the comparatively bland polenta. There wasn't anything specifically wrong with it; I just thought the sausage and vegetables were tastier on their own.
I wasn't a huge fan of the Calamari Puttanesca ($8.95), but that was probably more a result of my distaste for olives (the dish is made of calamari, gaeta olives, capers and cherry tomatoes in puttanesca sauce) than anything else. My dining companion enjoyed it, and the sauce itself went nicely with the well-cooked calamari.
I should note that as Piattini is a wine cafÃ©, its wine list is extensive. Each dish on the menu has numbers listed next to it that correspond with recommended wines, and it's clear that a good amount of thought went into all of the pairings. I didn't partake in any myself, so I can't comment on the quality of the recommendations; however, the fact that the restaurant specializes in wine (and that most of the diners seated near me were enjoying glasses with their dinners) seems to be a good indicator.
All in all, Piattini is a great place if you're trying to get a great variety of food without breaking the bank-it's definitely on the nicer end of the spectrum for most college students, but for a filling meal and a great atmosphere, you won't do much better in the area.
If small plates aren't your thing, the restaurant serves regular-sized entrees as well, but it's much more fun to sample a variety of their delicious dishes and share with a date or with friends. If nothing else, order the pasta and you won't go wrong.
Piattini is located at 226 Newbury St., Boston. Call (617) 536-2020 for more information or to make a reservation.
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