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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ivy Restaurant

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, before seeing My Fair Lady we had dinner at Ivy, a nouveau-Italian restaurant in the Ladder District. Before I give my comments, let’s take a look at a couple of published reviews. If Barbara and I had read them ahead of time, perhaps we would have gone elsewhere, although the weather encouraged us to pick a place with as short a walk to the Opera House as possible. Anyway, here’s what the Boston Globe had to say:
Ivy positions itself as a good spot for today’s diner with moderately priced wine and lots of small plates. The fare by chef Joshua Breen can be inconsistent at times, but when he’s on, Italian comfort food fits the niche with aplomb.
Fair enough — a bit vague, but not incorrect.

And then we have Robert Nadeau’s review in the Boston Phoenix. Here are some excerpts:
Small plates could serve as appetizers or a snack, or two could be a meal for many people. Pasta plates were the size you get in Italy. Gnocchi Sorrentina ($11) were dense pasta nuts with a spicy tomato sauce. Tiger-shrimp linguine ($12) was not as al dente as it would have been in Italy, but it was nicely flavored, with just-wilted arugula and very tender shrimp.

On the protein tip, duck confit ($12) was a small, nicely cured leg (though not with spices), and a side salad of arugula. Mussels ($9) were a fine little heap, reasonably plump for the season, with a good dipping sauce with plenty of garlic and pepper. Tuna ($12) was sushi-quality slices, seared on one side and crusted with black and white sesame seeds. The dip was the kind of pink-mayonnaise hot sauce you get in the hotter sushi places. There was also a tiny side salad of shredded cucumber and a bit of dill. Scallops ($12) were three tasty sea scallops with a lot of pancetta (which now seems to include smoked bacon on Italian menus) and a wisp of sauce.

There are also side dishes, such as herbed frites ($5), which weren’t herbed or crisp, but did have a lot of potato flavor, served in a paper bag on a fancy plate. Grilled asparagus ($5) were nicely done, but with the sub-pencil-thin asparagus available in August: kind of chewy. This is the time of year when you should put in something like grilled zucchini instead.

There are only four real entrées, and at least three are excellent...

The wine policy at Ivy is to maintain a long list, mostly Italian, but with others from around the world to fill in, all at the same price: $26 per bottle, $10 for a six-ounce glass, $18 for a 12-ounce “Quartino.” The stemware is large, so the wines will show well...

Ivy does not have desserts. This is a reasonable policy for a restaurant whose dinner business may prove to be mostly pre-theater, and which wants lounge and small-plate customers for most of the evening...

Service at Ivy was quite good. We asked for our dishes as they came from the kitchen, and our server didn’t seem to mind the extra trips involved. The atmosphere is still somewhat in limbo, as one feels odd eating a full-course meal in a lounge, even when seated at a table with a tablecloth (or one marble-topped larger table in back). The music is some kind of background electronica — a sample CD was sent as part of the promotion for the opening of the restaurant. The crowd looks young and bar-friendly, but not crowded or trendy. The division into small rooms keeps down some of the noise.

The décor is rather darker than Limbo’s was, with an interesting new motif of black-iron fences on the walls — the kind of fences that surrounded Victorian homes. There is still some bare brick, red lights, fun and mismatched lamps and chandeliers, and a variety of seating situations.
Now this review is a year and a half old (and maybe the Globe review is of a similar vintage); some things have changed since then. There are a couple of ways in which the review is significantly out-of-date: in particular, there is now only one real entrée, so the only plausible way to assemble a dinner is to have a combination of small plates, either individually or shared; there is also a dessert now. The “large stemware” may show the wines well, but Barbara is quite unhappy with this new trend. Both Ivy and dBar told us that the huge, unwieldy glasses (each of which could hold almost a full bottle of wine) were the only ones they had. Apparently ridiculously large glasses are the new black; Barbara blames Ming Tsai.

Anyway, the black-iron fences on the walls are totally cool, the music is too loud, and it is indeed true that “the crowd looks young and bar-friendly, but not crowded or trendy. The division into small rooms keeps down some of the noise.” Although Ivy clearly appeals mostly to 30-somethings, we certainly weren’t the only older diners and didn’t feel out of place.

Oh — what about the food, you ask? Barbara and I ordered four small plates: adequate arancini to share (we asked for the variety with prosciutto, but the waitress seems to have brought us the version with truffles instead); steak frites for Barbara (cooked to medium rare as requested, with excellent frites, which the chef made reasonably crispy unlike Nadeau’s experience); excellent medium-rare pork loin with figs, cherries, and apples for me; and grilled asparagus for us to share. Since this is February rather than August, I can’t compare our asparagus with his — but ours were wonderful. For dessert I ate half of a portion of ricotta pie, which came from some bakery in the North End whose name I forget; it was too large and too sweet, but otherwise it was delicious, including a yummy dark chocolate center.

So, what was the bottom line? It all came to a hundred dollars less than dBar, even with the tax, tip, a couple of after-dinner drinks, and the famous fixed-price bottle of wine (a very good Two Brothers Big Tattoo Red in our case). Perfectly reasonable, even though we had been looking for something even less expensive to balance out the pricey theatre tickets.

Ivy wouldn’t be near the top of our list, but we would definitely return when we’re in the neighborhood.

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