These guys can make wilted lettuce taste good, how’s that for some cooking magic. The co-owners/executive chefs Kevin O’Donnell and Michael Lombardi, of the Coda Group (Salty Pig, Coda Kitchen & Bar, and Canary Square), opened SRV almost 3 months ago and pay tribute to the “serene republic of Venice,” or Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia with their moniker, decor, and ornate dishes.
SRV has over 100 seats under its lofted-ceiling, with decor that features exposed brick, display pieces of ship lap and rope, and lighting installations of modified crystal vases and bottles. I assume this all salutes the Arsenale di Venezia, a port that built giant naval ships, provided jobs, and offered a period of economic prosperity for Venetians in the 13th century. As soon as the weather improves you can look forward to SRV opening their sidewalk seating and a courtyard patio in the back.
The menu of Cicchetti (small plates), Piati (plates), Grani (grains), and Dolce (desserts) are served to diners mingling and standing around bacaro-style at high-top tables, and also to guests that prefer to eat sitting down. We chose to sit and were greeted by a bubbly server who expertly explained that most menu items are intended for sharing, like Venetian tapas. SRV also offers an Arsenale menu, which is a multi-course meal of shared plates to be determined by the chefs and enjoyed by the entire table. Priced at only $45 per person, this has to be one of Boston’s greatest deals for a fine-dining experience. We let the chefs choose our meal but also ordered the lobster risotto with artichokes, basil and citrus because it was excluded from the Arsenale array. I also heard that each of the risottos at SRV were made to order in the traditional style – with perfectly chewy rice floating in a flavorful starchy broth that moves like a wave when the plate is tilted back and forth.
All we had to do now was sit back, sip our drinks from the list of beers, wine, and spirits, and wait for our meal to parade in. Like 4th of July fireworks over the Esplanade, this meal escalated with color, flavor, excitement and grandeur. First came a sprinkling of Cicchetti: Nervetti Fritti, which is puffed beef tendon, black pepper, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, Mozzarella in Carrozza with preserved tomato, and bonito flakes, Baccala Mantecato with squid ink black bread, herbs, and garlic, and Polpette of pork and beef, with tomato, and pecorino romano. The puffed beef tendon dissolved on the tongue with a velvety saltiness, and the bonito flakes that quivered from the heat of fried mozzarella added a briny freshness to the rich cheese dish. The baccala of salt cod was spirited with herbs and smooth in texture, but the tang of raw garlic lingered a bit longer than desired. Lastly the meatball – it was a really good meatball.
Next to arrive was a smattering of Piati, starting with Italian Chicories. This salad was a high wire act of balance between the bitter greens, the acidic valpolicella dressing, creamy gorgonzola dolce, the crunch of preserved walnuts, and vibrant chew of candied cumquats. Then came my favorite dish of Skate Wing with sea urchin salsa peverada, blood orange, and grilled baby gem lettuces. The dazzling combinations of hot and cold, crunchy and smooth, and perfectly seared and charred amused my senses with each bite. The last of the piati was Maiale al Latte; consisting of pieces of perfectly pink pork shoulder, coated with spring vegetable ash and served with charred spring onions, and homemade mascarpone. The magic in this dish was the flawless pork cookery. I asked the server if it was cooked sous vide style and he said it was not, and that “chef is really proud of this one.” He should be!
Are you full yet?
Our last round, from the Grani section of the menu, brought Casunziei; a traditional beet-filled pasta served at SRV with smoked ricotta, tarragon, poppy seeds and nori. With pasta made from house-milled flour, this dish is like a rich uncle of borscht. Our last savory offering from the Arsenale menu was Gnocchi with braised lamb neck, kalette, dehydrated yogurt, and garlic. While the gnocchi and lamb were tender and the yogurt offered an interesting tang, this dish lacked the pizazz of the kitchen’s previous creations. I would have been slightly disappointed with the finale had our lobster risotto not arrived, but like Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture – just to hammer home this 4th of July fireworks metaphor – the rice dish was lusciously creamy with pops of color and flavor from acidic artichokes, anise scented basil, and tender, buttery lobster.
To finish off the Arsenale menu we were treated to Biscotti Misti and a visit from SRV’s general manager Ted Hawkins who, like the staff he trained, was pleasant and knowledgable.
SRV is located at 569 Columbus Ave., Boston, 617-536-9500, www.srvboston.com