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Table For Two: Vinny Testa’s

Family-Style Italian in the Back Bay

By J. Erik Keiper

Staff Writer

Vinny Testa’s Bar Ristorante

867 Boylston Street, across from the Prudential, Boston

(617) 262-6699

Hours: Daily, 11:30 a.m. - 1:00 a.m.

As spring rushes into the air, this favorite season of mine brings with it a potpourri of emotions. For those finishing their time here, graduation is the foremost thought. Perhaps for some others the clichÉd idea that spring brings new love interests might cause a renewed search for The One. Or, for the rest of us, we simply want this stupid term to end.

Whatever motivates our lust for spring, we all look forward to the end of the cold and with it the First Day of Spring. The First Day of Spring does not occur on the equinox as some might suggest. The first day of spring is that day when the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and everyone and their cousin is out on Newbury Street sporting the most daring new spring outfits. You could never schedule this day; it simply arrives and everyone knows it.

There is no better way to celebrate these gorgeous days than by spending them dining on the patio of some restaurant on Newbury or Boylston. Vinny Testa’s Back Bay location on Boylston across from the Prudential center is the cornerstone of this successful local chain. General Manager Roger DuBois has turned family-style Italian dining into an experience trendy enough for the Back Bay.

A popular MIT culinary destination, Vinny’s has it all. Whether you’re out for a nice meal with your team or lab group, or if you’re out on a date with that special someone, Vinny’s provides well-prepared food in gut-bursting amounts. Upon arriving, the request for a patio table on a nice day could easily double your waiting time. I thought we were lucky to get a table in the shade under an hour. The small cafÉ-style tables of Vinny’s patio are a bit small for two people, given the large size of the serving plates, and are nearly unworkable for a group of four. Additionally, the patio isn’t the most level surface in Boston either.

Looking past the defects in the furniture, our eyes turned to the gorgeous evening and the bustle of people moving under the shadow of the Pru. We began our evening with one of Executive Chef Matthew Overton’s best appetizers, the cold Mozzarella and Tomatoes Caprese ($8.95 solo [serves 2], $11.95 molto [serves 4]). The hunks of cheese were perfect in texture and flavor. Served lightly drizzled in virgin olive oil, the combination of the fresh mozzarella with ripe tomatoes was mouth-watering. The capers and olives were also a good match; however the olives were too salty for my taste. Another note-worthy appetizer was the Mussels Bianco ($11.95 molto, serves 4). The shellfish were of good quality, but not outstanding. However, the white wine sauce with tomatoes, shallots, and garlic elevated this appetizer from average to superior.

The wine selection at Vinny’s has shrunken from around 100 to about 25. Though the choice to decrease the selection was a bad one, at least they have kept some of the better wines, and at a reasonable price. The house Chianti ($19.95) made for Vinny’s by a Sonoma vinter, was average in most respects, but complimented Vinny Testa’s more acidic red sauce well. A better choice for a deep red was the Pedroncelli Mother Clone red zinfandel ($29.95). This full-bodied Californian was a perfect match to any of Vinny’s red pasta dishes, as well as the lamb and veal selections.

The entrÉe selections at Vinny’s are the highlight of the place. Typically coming in serving size of solo (for one or two) or molto (for three or more), larger parties should opt for a few moltos of different entrÉes to be passed around family-style. The classic Italian dishes are not to be missed: Veal, Chicken, or Eggplant Parmigiana Fettuccini Alfredo (all three are $18.95 molto, $11.95 solo), and Baked Lasagna ($12.95 solo). All come with plenty of food and are cooked perfectly al dente.

If you are looking for the quintessential Italian meal you have it right here, served with complementary foccacia and Italian bread with roasted garlic in olive oil. I do recommend reaching out beyond the ordinary Italian fare and trying something like their Grilled Pork Chops with Vinegar Peppers ($15.95 solo). A North End-type classic, the huge cuts of handler brothers pork chops are grilled to juicy perfection. Smothered with delicate vinegar-soaked bell peppers, this entry verges on gastronomic overload.

One of Vinny’s downfalls is that its patrons become too sated to enjoy dessert. While the Dolci menu contains the obligatory Spumoni, Tiramisu, and Cannolis, the Chocolate Bomba ($6.95 feed two) must not be missed. The dense layers of genoise chocolate and rich mousse are decorated with hazelnuts and a white chocolate and crÉme anglaise sauce. Decadent beyond belief, the Chocolate Bomba rivals some of the confectionary creations produced at Mike’s in the North End.

Service at Vinny Testa’s tends to be fairly good, our only complaint being that sometimes the next course is brought out while the current one is still being worked on. It should be noted, though, that such overlap is expected at a restaurant that feeds so many people on the weekends. If a less hurried atmosphere is desired, I would point you past the Fleet Center to many of the fine smaller Italian restaurants in the North End. However, if you are traveling with the hip crowd one beautiful spring afternoon on Newbury and are looking for some good Italian for you and your friends, swing on by Vinny’s.