Jamming to Latin Music in the North End… Restaurant Week 2007 at Taranta

Once a year in Boston, foodies unite and make their annual pilgrimage through Restaurant Week. The week where many participating restaurants in the Greater Boston area offer discounted lunches (for $20.07 — with the 07 representing the year) and dinners (at $33.07). Each price includes three courses… an appetizer, entree and dessert… from a limited version of their menu (generally 3 or 4 choices depending on the restaurant). This is a big deal to us foodies, as this gives us an opportunity to try restaurants we might otherwise consider too pricey.

This year, Dan and I had our regularly scheduled DN (date night) land smack in the middle of RW. I scoured the available reservations on http://www.opentable.com/ trying to decide where we should eat. Most of the “good places” booked up ages ago… and since I was trying to book dinner for Friday night on the Tuesday of that week, the pickings were a little slim. One rule of thumb for us is that we don’t generally go to a place we’ve already been too… especially during RW, unless the place is absolutely coveted to us. That said, I didn’t have a lot to choose from that seemed enticing to me.

I settled on selecting a place in the North End. We hadn’t been there in about a year and do not get there very often since we moved out of the city 5 years ago. I figured you cannot go wrong in the NE for ambiance… but I’ve had my share of good and bad experiences in the food category. I narrowed down the available reservations to include only those in the NE and then I started sleuthing… checking out the restaurant’s website (if they had one) and the reviews on City Search. I settled on a place called Taranta, on Hanover Street… http://www.tarantarist.com/v4/index.html A somewhat newer restaurant that claimed to be a fusion of southern Italian and Peruvian fair. Sounded interesting… and different.

The menu looked good; however, they did not specify which entrees would be on the menu for RW. I was a little concerned, as they didn’t seem to have any shortage of reservations available. A sign? I went to City Search to see what other like-minded folks had to say about this place. With 32 reviews under their belt, they had an average rating of 4.5 (out of 5) stars. This is quite high by City Search standards… elevating my interest. However, when I began reading the actual reviews, all the 5 star ratings occurred during the first year of their operation. Many of the reviews from this year gave them very low ratings (like 1 star). The most recent posts were from May of this year and both were 5 stars… so I was hopeful.

The last negative review was from March of this year and the bulk of the negative reviews were based on cost. The reviewers thought the price outweighed the quality of food. This would not be an issue for us, as it was a set price. Maybe this WAS a good place to try for RW… seeing how they tended to be on the pricey side. The other negative reviews focused on service… basically that is sucked. This can definitely be a downer on a date night… as you want to have a good time and feel waited on and taken care of (instead of being the caretaker). Since no one had posted a negative review all summer… I decided I would take it upon myself to try this place out and then place an updated review on City Search (should be coming soon).

I booked our reservation… though hesitantly, as this was the only restaurant I have EVER encountered on Open Table that required a credit card number too book. They had a 48 hour cancellation fee… $25 per person! We all know that a child can whip up a fever at the last minute, so this concerned me. I don’t know if this policy was directly tied to RW, or if this is the standard. In either case, this is definitely a negative check for me. I was determined to book something before it was too late though, so I bit the bullet and clicked the submit button.

Taranta does not have valet parking (negative check number 2)… though, most restaurants in the NE don’t… so I cannot really hold this factor against them. There is a lot that is located within short walking distance to Hanover and they validate the parking… so in the end, it only cost us $3… a nice surprise and a BIG savings in the Boston parking world! It had been raining all day, but had cleared by early evening, providing us with a clear, cool night for strolling through the (extremely tourist-heavy) streets.

We arrived right on time… at 7:30. We were seated immediately and bread and water were brought to the table just moments later (service? check). The RW menu offered 3 choices for apps, 4 for entree and 2 for desert. You need to select all three up front (which was a little annoying, as I like to see what I feel like for desert after I eat). I selected pan roasted mussels (normally $10.95) in a red wine and balsamic vinegar broth, pasta pomodoro della nonna ($18.95) and mango mousse cake. Dan got the chilled cucumber soup, which was topped with a couscous and shrimp salad (and not on the standard menu), the cassava root gnocchi ($24.95) in a slow-braised green lamb ragu and the lemon sorbet. I also had their signature martini… a “Cholopolitain”… made with Peurvian Pisco (which is similar to grappa), cranberry juice, cointreau, passion fruit juice and lime juice. This was delicious… and strong… with a reminiscence of tequila. I enjoyed it…

Our apps came out in a very timely fashion and we were both very happy with the quality of the ingredients and the overall taste. The broth surrounding the mussels was extremely good… between Dan and I, we sopped up most of it with the leftover bread. Dan also enjoyed the cucumber soup… it had a nice spice to it and tasted very refreshing.

The dinners came out shortly after our app plates were cleared. I would have preferred a bit more time between courses, but due to the circumstances (RW) I will let this one pass. Dan’s gnocchi looked and smelled wonderful. He was surprised by the amount of lamb in the dish and the overall taste of the meal was very good. My pomodoro was okay. For $18.95 on the normal menu, I would have expected a better tasting sauce. I believe the pasta was homemade, which is always a nice touch. I didn’t really enjoy the overall meal though. Deserts were mediocre. Dan’s lemon sorbet was quite good… but it was sorbet…how do you mess that one up? My mango mousse cake was overly sweet and too creamy (yes, desert CAN be too creamy). I expected a nice tangy punch of mango… so I didn’t even eat half (which is a RARITY for me).

Would we come back again? Probably not. Is it date night worthy? Not in my opinion. I would give it maybe a 4 out of a possible 10 for DNW. My final comment would be that, aside from the gnocchi (which is one of their signature dishes) I felt they picked meals that were on the low-end price-wise. The combination of my 3 courses probably added up to $33 or less… NOT a bargain in my mind. Even the fish option (which I would have normally gotten) was just tilapia. I would have preferred the salmon, trout or tuna dishes over that one any day. I felt like they didn’t really give diners an appropriate mix of meals to try. I can get pasta pomodoro anywhere… it’s RW… dazzle us already!

Taranta in Boston

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