Raised prices, lowered expectations
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  June 28, 2006
2.0 2.0 Stars

FOOD BEGINS: exquisitely at Tresca but droops by dessert.
This space was Via Valverde, a fairly expensive North End bistro that morphed and changed names. In an uncertain market where most operators are looking down, the owners of Tresca decided to raise prices. Food begins justifiably exquisite, but droops toward dessert, and the tone is not what it needs to be.

Dinner starts with a fine basket of crusty white bread, fine crunchy breadsticks, and a salty cracker-bread topped with a little cheese. With this come pours of an absolutely superb extra-virgin olive oil. Appetizers are very good. (We also sampled from a pair of $65 four-course tasting menus — ordinarily designed for a whole table, and a reasonable buy for big eaters, even though the final course is cheese rather than dessert.) Capesante Veneziane ($13) is a huge sea scallop in a fine tomato-cream sauce, on a giant scallop shell, the shell balanced on salt. While the price to value ratio of even very-large sea scallop appetizers is low, I’ve never been disappointed by one. Our other tasting menu brought a hockey puck of re-grilled polenta garnished with a shaving of cheese, wild mushrooms, and a salty glaze sauce — good enough for the regular menu.

Soup of the day our night was a cold tomato cream ($8), garnished with chopped grilled sea scallops — probably the smaller ones in the shipment. It wasn’t too creamy, and actually was refreshingly close to gazpacho. Gamberoni croccante ($12) was four enormous shrimp fried with something very much like tempura batter, the whole delight made fancy with a clever salad of shredded melon and onion.

The tasting menu brought a pasta course of rigatoni Norma ($18/à la carte), which was very al dente in the new and authentic fashion, and a solid red sauce with eggplant and Parmesan. I had ordered a half-order of tagliatelli Bolognese ($12/half; $20/full) to test whether Tresca could do red-sauce pasta. But the tasting menu’s rigatoni already answered this in the affirmative, and when the waiter accidentally brought papardelle piemontesi ($12/$20), I refused to let go of it. The smell of wild mushrooms and truffle oil was just too good, and so were the wide ribbons of homemade pasta, with slices of porcini, baby bellas, portabellas, and shitake (shitake are wild mushrooms in Japan, I guess).

Struzzo modenese ($31), ostrich to us, is a fun entrée. It’s presented as duck-breast-like medallions with roasted red onion and a pretty garnish of fresh green fava beans and spinach. Vitelle dello Toscana ($34) is a porterhouse veal chop, almost two inches thick, possibly a little overdone, but entirely delicious and served with garlicky broccoli rabe, a little bitter still.

The tasting dinners had something for everyone, offering both a filet di manzo ($30/à la carte) — filet mignon on a French menu — served with mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus; and a cioppino ($30/à la carte), saffron-tomato broth with two large slices of toasted bread, lobster, shrimp, three littleneck clams, and several fine New Zealand mussels.

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