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Grotto

37 Bowdoin St

Boston, MA 02114-4201

Phone: (617) 227-3434

Hours:

Lunch - Monday-Friday 11:30-3pm

Dinner - Sunday-Saturday 5pm- 10pm

I decided to kick off my 2008 Boston Restaurant Week experience with lunch at Grotto with a couple friends. Grotto, one of Beacon Hill’s high-end Italian restaurants, looks unassuming enough from the outside; the restaurant is below street level and, like its name implies, is quite cave-like once you get past the heavy purple curtain at the entrance. Inside, the red brick walls are peppered with paintings done by local artists, and chandeliers and a fancy wall mirror juxtaposed against the red-piped ceiling (complete with greasy rag) give the place a funky, almost hip vibe. A glance around the small dining area made it clear that we were the youngest patrons there; perhaps Grotto entertains a younger crowd for dinner. The service, while not extraordinary, was decent, and the atmosphere relaxed, although a bit noisier than what I expected.

Grotto’s RW lunch menu is pleasing in that it offers a relatively large number of choices; most places only offer two or three main entrees. For our first courses, we settled on the grilled calamari, garlic and black truffle soup, and ricotta cavatelle (a pasta dish), none of which disappointed. Tossed in a heavy cream sauce with fresh peas, mushrooms, pancetta, and savory house-prepared sausage, the cavatelle was perfectly cooked. For a lighter first course, the calamari, pleasantly chewy and with a hint of smokiness, proved to be an excellent choice. The black truffle soup had an extremely rich consistency and strong garlic flavor, which was great in small doses but made it difficult to finish the large portion. All of the starters we tried at Grotto were decently sized.

The main entrees we ordered were less unanimously satisfying. I ordered the signature Grotto’s Burger, an 8 oz. Italian blue-cheese-stuffed hamburger with apple wood smoked bacon, tomatoes, “secret sauce”, and parmesan-tossed fries, and was a bit disappointed. The bread was more biscuit-like than a traditional hamburger bun and was a poor complement to the hefty hunk of blue-cheese-oozing beef, which oddly enough had little taste. I kept waiting for the enticingly-named “secret sauce” to kick in, but it remained just that — secret, as I couldn’t taste much of anything at all besides meat. On the other hand, the fries, coated with sharp parmesan shavings, tasted great with the ketchup, which was especially sweet and tangy, perhaps in comparison to the rather dull burger. The other entrees we tried were hit-or-miss as well. The crab ravioli, with asparagus and almonds, was nothing too remarkable, with small portions and skins that were borderline rubbery. The true winner of the night was an innovative presentation of crispy pan-roasted chicken, laid on top of creamy Yukon gold potatoes and baby spinach.

Though my pants were feeling uncomfortably snug at this point, there was no way we were going to forego our third course (a problem that comes with the prix fixe menus of Restaurant Week). Of the three desserts offered, which include tiramisu and a brownie sundae, my favorite was the creamy vanilla bean panna cotta with raspberry drizzle, though it was missing the crispy lemon cookie touted on the menu.

Verdict: Hit or miss. What I thought would be a typical dish turned out to be surprisingly creative and delicious, and what I thought would be a signature item disappointed. For $20.08, the Restaurant Week price for lunch, eating at Grotto was still a good deal, even though there were some minor disappointments.

Grotto Tips:

Know before you go: Make reservations. Dress is surprisingly casual. (So save your money for the meal!)

Good for: a romantic date, gaining back calories burned from walking around Beacon Hill

Bad for: kids, groups larger than six or eight, someone with a burger craving

Coming up: Sonsie, Top of the Hub, Haru