WOOD-FIRED WONDER Like most of the menu at Posto, the mushroom pizza — with three cheeses,
sliced garlic, and arugula — is a four-star delight.
Some places, no matter how good, manage to fly under the radar. And the recent trend of restaurateurs opening a pizza place, establishing a reputation as a lower-priced, "On the Cheap" joint, and then upscaling into a full-tilt sit-down spot (see: Nebo), has made things even trickier. Posto ("the Place") in Davis Square almost slipped through, too, and it's a good thing it didn't — the owners would have ducked a four-star review. Luckily, I noticed its posted menu walking toward another target, and put a tracer on it. Today, we can announce that Posto won't be fooling any more Phoenix readers (or reviewers), and that this column has taken certain undisclosed initiatives to adjust its radar.
The pizza at Posto might have drawn a review by itself, based on a recent mushroom ($16.95), a white pizza of three cheeses (including house-made fresh mozzarella), sliced garlic, and a scattering of arugula with a bits of wild mushroom. The wood-fired oven bubbles up the crust wonderfully, with just a hint of char on the bottom. You can get the idea by ordering rosemary sea-salt bread ($2.50), which is like two large bubbles of pizza dough (yes, this is another place you pay for bread, if you don't count the pretty bread sticks). You get your dipping oil with an order of olives ($4.95), house-cured with lemon, rosemary, and a pretty good chili-pepper bite. I especially liked the bright-green ones, but I also loved the oil. Some dishes come with a gorgeous bottle of oil full of dried chilies; the flavor is more bitter than burning, so if you like that grassy olive oil with a little catch in the aftertaste, this is for you.
Like the best fried food, "crisp calamari" ($12.95) is glorious, hot, and all over in a few minutes. I've seldom had sweeter fried squid this side of Spain. The dip is a real marinara (you can tell by the tomato skins left in).
The marinara returns with "Nonna's meatballs" ($10.95). Everybody is making Nonna's meatballs these days — nobody had a great aunt Louisa? I doubt they made them from free-range pork, beef, and veal, but these are very good meatballs. Same sauce again on lemon arancini ($9.95), which may be the masterpiece of the appetizer list, given the technical difficulty of keeping up a lemon flavor through the long process of making risotto, never mind rolling the risotto in crumbs and making the balls. There might be a little mint in the tomato sauce here.
Posto dodges the dull summer-mussel problem by putting up a whole pound ($13.95) of tasty ones in a spicy tomato-wine sauce. Several people can enjoy this, if they can avoid fighting over the crouton.
There are many tempting pastas, but the only one I can vouch for is the smoked-rabbit pappardelle ($13.95/half order; $21.95/full). These are inch-wide ribbons of really good homemade pasta, cooked slightly past chewy, with a surprisingly delicate broth dominated by wild mushrooms, and bright-green fresh peas and fava beans. The meat is so gently smoked that the dish seems like something just invented by the chef, and a lucky hit, but it is served here every night.