Anyone that knows me, knows that I'm an Italophile. I like to think I have a special relationship with Italian cuisine. I have grown up in an Italian-American family, surrounded by very good Italian food. Add to that my travels to Italy and an intense passion to find the best Italian food, and I consider myself fairly well-versed in the red, white, and green. And consequently, I know good Italian food when I taste it. But the one thing that really gets me going, even makes me giddy, is Italian cuisine. A good Italian restaurant will make my weak. Unfortunately, given the fact that I am not the only lover of Italian food (read: most Americans), the irony is that the high demand for pizza, pasta, and EXpresso (*shudder*) has resulted in tons of mediocre or as the Italians would say "cosi cosi" (just okay) restaurants.
While Boston is very well-known for its plethora of Italian offerings, the opportunity to enjoy such a meal typically warrants a trip to the North End. However, I am here to tell you that one of the best, if not the best, Italian restaurant resides in Porter Square. And its name is Giulia. In an area saturated with ramen, thai, and gastropubs, Giulia defies the odds and brings the good Italian food to Cambridge.
Having had the opportunity to spend a day at Giulia to observe Chef Michael Pagliarini, I have a special connection with Giulia. Plus name of the restaurant is the Italian version of my name, Julia (there is no "J" in the Italian alphabet). I think my soul mate is a restaurant.
From the moment you walk in to the door, there is a feeling of classiness. While I am a fan of the "red sauce" Italian spots that have pictures of the owner shaking hands with a celebrity or political figure, tile walls, and efficient yet brusque service, Giulia is not that kind of place. It is warm and welcoming yet upscale with an open, yet small kitchen.
The fall and winter usually means the end of all life and exciting bounties. But for Italians, this time of year brings about one of the most glorious fruits of the colder months: truffles. As I learned during our meal, people have yet to master the cultivation of truffles. This is what keeps them so coveted and expensive. The positive side of this is that when you see truffle on a menu, you know that it will be authentic. Keen on trying truffles but not wanting to spend a fortune on the night I dined at Giulia, I chose to enjoy truffles with our appetizer, warm cornmeal cakes with fontal, brown butter, and prosciutto di parma.
Next, we tried a special crostini, with mortadella mousse. Mortadella is an Italian deli meat, indigenous to the Emilia-Romagna region, where pretty much all of the delicious and decadent food in Italy comes from. It is most notable for containing specks of pistachios.
Next, we enjoyed the burrata salad. If you didn't know, burrata is the new mozzarella. Literally meaning "buttered," burrata looks like a typical ball of mozzarella, but inside is filled with cream. I get chills just thinking about it. If you haven't tried burrata, you haven't lived.
Next up, the star of the show. The pasta. All of the critic reviews of Giulia mention the long wooden table in the back of the restaurant that is Chef Pagliarini's work space during the day and transformed into the best seats into the restaurant by night. And having spent a behind-the-scenes day at Giulia, I know that this process is true. During the day, pounds of pasta are rolled, cut, extruded and divided but come 4:30pm, the flour is wiped away and a tablecloth draped over top. And the pasta is worth the hype.
Emmer Farro Cassarecce with Braised Duck with Matustake Mushrooms, Heirloom Squash, and Kale. During my stage at Giulia, I was tasked with making the Cassarecce- so this pasta has a special place in my heart. It is very hearty on its own. Add to that the duck, mushrooms, squash, and kale, and you have a mouthful that can be described in no other way but a burst of umami.
Next, Bucatini all'Amatriciana with House-Smoked Pancetta, Tomato, Onion, and Pecorino. This dish seems like any typical Italian pasta dish, but it is not. Bucatini is one of my favorite pasta shapes. While it may appear as a normal strand of spaghetti, this one has a "buco" or hole inside. This feature allows with extra sauce to accumulated in the center. Second, the amatriciana sauce is a classic Roman sauce named after the town in which it was founded, Amatrice, in the Lazio. It is typically made with guanciale, which is lovely name for cured pork cheek. The pancetta in this recipe is actually pork belly, which is a variation of the original, but is actually one of the best versions of this dish that I have tried. You will rarely see this item on many Italian-American menus. My father, a fan of this particular dish, notoriously order this at many Italia restaurants but is never fully satisfied. Let's jus stay that this amatriciana would make any Italian man cry.
Both dishes were delicious. Having been my third visit to Giulia, I have already tried their signature dishes: Pappardelle with Wild Boar and the Roasted Veal Breast and Sweetbread Ravioli. Which, if this is your first trip there, I highly recommend that you order those.
And like any good Italian, finishing off the meal with un macchiato (which means "stained" since the espresso shot it technically "stained" with a dollop of foam. Gosh, I just love the Italian language).
In conclusion, Giulia is a gem. It takes a lot for me to get excited about an Italian restaurant outside of Italy proper. But Giulia actually gets me as giddy as I am when I'm in Italy. And lucky for me it is a 4 minute walk from my house rather than a $4,000 trip to Italy. And while I long to return to Italy, Giulia truly captures the essence of what makes a good Italian restaurant: hand-selected yet simple ingredients, wonderful hospitality, and a team with a passion for the true Italian cuisine.