I love the fact that I live just around the corner from Giulia, Michael Pagliarini's super popular Italian restaurant right on the edge of Harvard Square. We've gotten to know the staff there, and we enjoy the excellent pastas, seasonal "nostrale" (vegetables), and whatever specials Chef Pagliarini has at the moment (hello truffles!).
Problem is, it's really, really hard to get into Giulia.
There's often a line outside the door well before their opening time of 5:30PM. Show up around peak time and you might be told that you'll have to wait for hours before you can get a seat. The bar is almost always packed.
Clearly, there has been a huge demand for Chef Pagliarini's food.
This is why all of Boston rejoiced when Chef Pagliarini announced that he would be opening a second, much larger restaurant in the old Rialto space inside the Charles Hotel. Located less than a 15 minute walk away, this restaurant would also serve homemade pastas (complete with its own huge pasta table), as well as offer private dining spaces, a much larger wine list, a dedicated sommelier, and much, much more.
If you like Giulia, you'll also love Benedetto, Giulia's big sister. Benedetto's menu retains much of the rustic charm of Giulia while adding on several bells and whistles.
The space has been remodeled. Gone are the high banquette booths that defined Rialto. In general, the space feels a bit more open that before. The general layout has not changed too much, and those who used to dine at Rialto will still feel that the space is familiar.
The menu is very similar to the one at Giulia, with a Sfizi "snacks" section ($6-$7), Antipasti section ($16 - $19), Primi section of mostly pastas ($19 - $32) and a Secondi section of meats and fish ($24 - $36).
Warm Semolina Cakes ($7) were a signature item at Giulia, and Chef Pagliarini offers a delicious version at Benedetto topped with taleggio (semi-soft washed rind Italian cheese), roasted mushrooms, parsley and lemon.
Duck Heart ‘Spiedini’ ($7) with pickled red pearl onions, heirloom apples and cider agrodolce is another starter that I had first enjoyed at Giulia. “Agro” means sour and “dolce” means sweet. Agrodolce is a sweet and sour sauce typically made from vinegar and sugar reduced down into a concentrated sauce.
The overall tartness from the components balances out the meaty duck heart nicely, and this was a table-favorite. Having said that, if you don't like gamey meat or organs, you may not love this since it does have a pretty strong "iron" flavor.
I really enjoyed the Yellowfin Tuna Crudo ($19) with bottarga di tonno (a salty fish roe), cucumber, radish and citrus. The dish was refreshing, flavorful, and balanced.
Grilled Mackerel ($16) is prepared "in saor" (sweet and sour) and comes with "zucca" (a delicata squash or "pumpkin"), sunchokes, pine nuts, golden raisins and toasted coriander.
The Spicy Grilled Octopus ($18) comes with boiled potatoes, ‘sapori di mare’ maionese (a "taste of the ocean" mayonnaise), fennel bulb and celery leaf. The octopus was executed quite nicely - charred and crispy on the outside and soft and tender on the inside. I wished for more octopus and less potatoes, but overall it was a very good dish.
The Torchio ($32) is a torch-shaped whole grain pasta and comes with lobster, roasted squash, burrata and Umbrian lentils. I thought the pasta had a really nice al dente texture. The dish was surprisingly light and overall very pleasant. The huge piece of burrata on top was definitely a plus.
Tagliatelle alla Bolognese ($27) is a traditional ragù made with beef short rib, pancetta and chicken livers. The texture of the pasta was excellent and the liver added a nice depth of flavor. The meat was chunky, the dish was rustic, and overall had great flavors. It was definitely a favorite of the table.
Veal ‘Nodini’ (or veal chops - $36) comes with tuscan kale, braised potatoes, prosciutto di parma and bagna cauda, a Piemontese creamy dipping sauce made from anchovies, garlic, and cream. This was an excellent dish. The veal was seasoned and cooked perfectly. Both guys are our table absolutely loved it.
GENERAL THOUGHTS - BENEDETTO CAMBRIDGE
Benedetto is a great addition to Harvard Square. It has the same great food that Giulia has, even down to the menu format and types of dishes (though at a higher general price point). On top of that, it offers more seating, a much larger wine and spirits program, private dining options, and underground parking at the hotel (likely at a cost).
The wines are great. I've loved the Italian wines that I've tried thus far, and we really enjoyed sampling from their huge selection of amaros and grappas. They even had an in-house resident expert (separate from the sommelier) who helped us pick out several amaros to try.
The restaurant offers cool private dining options, including the Pasta Table (like at Giulia) and a private room for larger parties. We had a work holiday dinner at the Pasta Table and the staff at Benedetto did a phenomenal job of providing the perfect tasting menu. Everyone loved it. Another night we spotted Elizabeth Warren coming out of the private dining room after some sort of event.
In short, Benedetto is great for special dinners, events, and just a nice date out. I would highly recommend it.
The Charles Hotel
1 Bennett Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Hours: 5:00pm – 11:00pm every day