Thom and I pass by Prezza all the time. We sometimes stop, read the menu posted outside, chat for a minute about different items, declare we're going to "go here at one point" and then continue on our way. There is just so much to choose from in this neighborhood - and we often prefer to cook together at home - that actually making it into a new restaurant (instead of an old favorite) can be a challenge.
On Friday, September 16th, along with Mom and her friend Mike (writer of Wine Tripping), the challenge was accepted.
Once we were seated we busied ourselves with the menu while Mike studied with extensive wine list. We quickly decided that we would share three appetizers and each order our own entree. That was the easy part - the hard part was deciding what to choose! After much chatting about what was in season, what is available in other restaurants and what was new to folks at the table we decided on the Crispy Zucchini Flowers, Wood Grilled Squid and Octopus and a skirt steak with an onion compote (not listed on the on-line menu).
I don't particularly care for squid or octopus and so I can't do real justice to this dish; but I found the octopus to be a bit rubbery. The entire dish was oddly "fishy" tasting as opposed to "fresh seawater" tasting. I was also confused as to why you would want to wood grill something and then serve it hidden in white beans with tomato sauce rather like a seafood cassoulet. The skirt steak was good, but not particularly memorable. The star of this round, hands-down, was the crispy zucchini flowers. They were deep-fried in a crisp tempura style batter but not at all heavy. The creamy polenta with roasted tomato upon which the blossoms were presented served as the perfect foil to the crunch of the batter and the sweetness of the blossom.
We paired our appetizer round with a bottle of 2007 Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo. This varietal by this producer has long been a favorite of mine. With both mineral notes and a full bodied mouth feel it classically pairs well with fish and chicken dishes, but is robust enough to handle heavier preparations of the two. We switched to red for the entree and decided upon the Montefalco Rosso from Umbria.
The one thing lacking at Prezza was a real wine expert. The waitstaff didn't have the education necessary to handle the extensive wine list and the list is in fact so extensive that even Mike and I were confused at times reading through the groupings. I don't mind a restaurant having fewer selections if those selections are paired well to the food and the front of house staff has the appropriate knowledge to make informed recommendations.
Our entrees were uniformly good. Mom selected the paella which I didn't taste beyond a bit of the rice; Mike chose the Angus sirloin which he requested rare. This was an excellent choice as the meat was tender and juicy with a even-handed seasoning. The grilled asparagus on the side were absolute heaven and I was thrilled to be able to sample two of them. Both his dish as well as my own came with an abundance of mashed potatoes. I selected the roast half chicken which was served with green beans and roasted onion. The vegetables were excellent and I was quite sorry to see so few of them on the plate, particularly in relation to the poultry and potatoes. The chicken was a revelation - the rotisseur on the line definitely knows what he or she is doing. The skin was extremely crisp with all fat rendered out. The meat itself was falling off the bone and so succulent it didn't even need the gravy (which was a bit heavy on the rosemary but paired well with the mashed potatoes). I was glad there was so much chicken to go around because I ended up giving quite a bit to Thom, whose gnocchi bolognese were excellent - but not nearly enough for his humongous appetite. Considering the other portions were monstrous he was a little disappointed. I'm not necessarily in favor of large portions; rather, the kitchen might consider evening out the proportions on the plate as well as the proportions compared to other dishes. A little more veg and pasta - a little less meat and starch.
We decided to share a dessert amongst the table. Wise decision after all that food. We selected the chocolate flourless torte with vanilla bean ice cream and raspberry puree. The raspberry puree was a revelation - fresh, sweet, tart - the prep cook in charge of that had an excellent supply of berries to work with! The cake itself was huge and more than enough for four people. It had a rich, deep chocolate flavor that called out to the fork to take a little more. My one complaint on dessert was that I could taste the cocoa powder in the torte in an unpleasant way - almost like when you're baking and accidentally inhale a small cloud of cocoa powder. This may seem like minutiae to some, but as we all well know, the devil is in the details.
I imagine I will come back to Prezza in the future. Despite my exacting standards it is in fact a stand-out in the neighborhood and I'd love to spend an evening at the bar with my girlfriends and those zucchini blossoms!