A small, neighborhood trattoria tucked away in north Cambridge just far enough away from any T stop to deter most people without cars, Trattoria Pulcinella lured us to their location with a 1000 point reservation on Opentable and the promise of fresh, homemade pasta in the tradition of Naples.
Intrigued yet slightly wary at the same time (we had seen slightly mixed yet mostly positively reviews), we thought it was worth trying. After all, this place was pretty close to our place. Furthermore, wouldn't it be great to have another "hidden" Italian trattoria that we could visit on a Friday night without a wait? It's always bittersweet when the rest of the world discovers our hidden finds, which inevitably happens far too often.
Hoping to find the next hidden gem, we drove out to North Cambridge to check out this little family-owned trattoria.
Hidden indeed. Granted, our reservation was slightly earlier in the evening (I want to say 6:30pm), but the place was virtually empty! We were actually quite pleased, as we had read from various other reviews that the place gets quite crowded and actually pretty noisy. the tables are squeezed close together because the restaurant itself is not very big.
Not only could we relax at our leisure in a quiet, relaxing environment, we had the waiter's full attention. Bryan decided to ask him for his recommendations.
Although the waiter cautioned that that homemade pork belly was "fatty," we decided that it sounded quite interesting and ordered it. He also recommended sharing a pasta and an entrée as a way of having more variety. I really appreciated how he actually suggested that we share, instead of making us feel pressured to each order our own appetizers and entrees. We went with his recommendation and ordered one appetizer, -one "primo" (a pasta dish), and one "secondi" (the fish special of the day, which was some sort of white fish (I think it was tilapia?) with a lemon caper sauce).
House cured pork belly. This pork belly was actually very very good, and seemed quite authentic. I had not tried anything quite like it before, but it definitely reminded me of prosciutto - smoky, salty, fatty, and thinly sliced. It paired nicely with the cheese and honey topped mini-toasts.
Il Pulcinella has A LOT of specials depending on what fresh ingredients they can find in the marketplace. On this day, we ordered one of the special pasta dishes: Papardelle with scallops and broccoli rabe. We really enjoyed the homemade pasta and the fresh ingredients. Overall, a solid and enjoyable dish.
The lemon-caper fish was good, although nothing particularly exciting. It was almost something I felt I could make at home, and thus not really worth ordering at a restaurant. I sometimes wonder whether restaurants tend to recommend safer dishes in case the diners are not adventurous eaters. I almost wished I had ordered something that was more unique, more interesting, that they make, such as the veal tripe, gnocchi with stuffed squid, or papardelle with rabbit confit).
We ordered one side dish, a roasted eggplant dish, which was soft, smoky, and overall pretty good, although slightly oily.
This place is decidedly authentic, and the food is good. I like how they offer so many different types of specials based on what interesting ingredients they can get at the market. I also like how they are not afraid to try serving bold dishes that veer from the typical American Italian menu (veal tripe or pork belly anyone?). It's probably a great place to visit over and over again if you want to try some of their more interesting dishes.
Having said all that, what was our initial impression as we were walking out of the restaurant?
"I like Gran Gusto better."
I'm not sure why - maybe it's the fact that the waiter recommended such a ordinary dish (lemon-caper fish) as one of the best dishes to try. Maybe everything was good, but nothing truly wow'ed us. Admittedly, the comparison is slightly unfair - we have eaten at Gran Gusto probably a dozen times while this is our first visit. So, I think it's worth another visit -- that is, if we aren't tempted away with Gran Gusto every time we are in the neighborhood.
147 Huron Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138
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