Peru And Italy Season With Surprise
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Taranta sits tucked among the numerous shop fronts lining bustling Hanover Street in the North End and is a true gem, boasting its special type of gastronomy as “a marriage between Southern Italian Cuisine and Peruvian Cuisine.” Chef-owner Jose Duarte, originally from Peru, and his wife Anna, a North End native, continue to successfully delight patrons with their unique twist on classic dishes, in addition to creative combinations that pop out while glancing over the menu. Taranta is a fairly new eatery, making its mark in one of the oldest parts of Boston.
Within the restaurant, diners are seated on one of three levels, and the initial impact of the ambiance is sophisticated without being over-the-top. The atmosphere is intimate enough for couples, with dim lighting and romantic charm, but equally appropriate for group dining. The friendly and accommodating wait staff and the familiar Hanover Street scenery remind customers that at Taranta, everyone is family. The dining rooms exude the cozy comfort of those single-floor (and quite frankly, too tiny) bistros throughout the North End without the annoyance of rubbing elbows with fellow diners at uncomfortably close adjacent tables. Like many of the small restaurants in the North End, however, the inconspicuous front door renders Taranta sort of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it establishment, even though what is inside should certainly not be overlooked.
Warm bread and dipping oil, delivered promptly to the table, was an excellent prelude to an excellent meal, which began with samplings of calzoncini fritti and gamberetti agliolio (garlic and oil shrimp) with broccoli rabe and crostone as primi piatti. The calzoni came in a trio of stuffed balls with a crispy fried coating, each filled with leeks and mozzarella, beef tenderloin, or baccala (salted cod). The garlic shrimp paired with broccoli rabe was an exquisite step up from any ordinary shrimp cocktail.
The secondi arrived shortly after, and it was hard not to note how prompt service was despite it being primetime on a Saturday night. The orechiette con salssicchia ($24) is a great option for those who get intrigued by and filled up with appetizers, as the dish is not as hearty as it sounds. Tossed with homemade orechiette pasta is Abruzzese sausage with a bit of kick, thanks to hints of spicy aji amarillo, which is a Peruvian yellow chili pepper. Broccoli rabe, evidently a favorite ingredient of Duarte’s, and perfectly cooked cherry tomatoes complimented the fresh meat and pasta. Filet en costra de Cafe Espresso is a worthy splurge ($38), incorporating the Peruvian specialty of coffee into the classic filet mignon cut of beef, topped with parsnip puree and sauteed escarole.
Diners are additionally informed of a list of specials, and the menu highlights gnocchi di yucca con ragu verde stilo seco Peruviano. This mouthful of a name translates into English what is a flavorful mouthful of Cassava root gnocchi with a slow braised green lamb ragu and shaved Parmesan. The dish is yet another prime example of Duarte’s masterful blending of both Italian and Peruvian culinary elements.
Portion sizes are very reasonable but border on the smaller side, so dessert is a feasible option. Taranta offers five varying dessert options, including hazelnut mousse, chocolate souffle cake, lucuma tiramisu (lucuma is a fruit native to the Andean valleys of Peru), and simple lemon sorbet. The standout on the list is undoubtedly the guavannolis ($9.50), which are mini cannolis filled with guava and ricotta bursting with flavor.
Taranta’s website highlights its status as being top-rated by Zagat and named in the Top Five Peruvian Influenced Restaurants in the U.S. Duarte and his team also show outstanding commitment to sustainability, which earned the restaurant its green certified restaurant status in October 2007, the City of Boston Green Business Award in 2008, and the Massachusetts Recycling Award in 2011. Knowing that the delicious dishes were made with concern for the environment makes dining at Taranta that much more enjoyable.