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by Marisa Olsen

Panna, Vodka & Scallops

As usual, my weekend proved to be quite a gourmet experience.
Friday began with a little happy hour at, (gasp) The Living Room. Now don’t laugh, I had my reservations too, but honestly, if you come with low expectations, it’s not so bad. I can’t say too much since I only tried the half priced seared scallops over bed of frisee with mushrooms, balsamic reduction and shaved parm. Ok, the scallops were seared perfectly, so immediately, I was relieved. Then I was confronted with the confirmation of the Italian culinary rule: Do not mix seafood and cheese. Although I take this “rule” with a grain of salt-particularly when it comes to an Italian seafood stew, that I usually drench in cheese shavings, or that one time I made a creamy mushroom and scallop risotto so thick of formaggio, I could hardly stir--however; the true rule need apply to this situation. The cheese was too rich for the seared scallop. I liked the combo of the crimini mushrooms, parmesan and reduction sauce and I liked the scallop, but not the mélange of the two entities.
After our “amuse bouche” we went to Salumeria, the famous Italian grocer
to accomplish my mission of creating a homemade vodka sauce with thick pancetta. Salumeria had all we needed and more; we got a fantastic baguette, thick pancetta and panna, an Italian cream (where the gelato flavor Panna Cotta originates from); essentially it’s an Italian version of sour cream /heavy whipping cream. Needless to say, my mission accomplished. I made sure to preserve some of the pancetta pan drippings for the tomato sauce and I also added extra panna, vodka and kilos worth of cheese.
Another lovely, but much less economically friendly meal was held at Carmen’s, conveniently nestled in the Paul Revere triangle. Carmen's is sandwiched between Paul Revere’s house and abig Italian (surprise) monster of a restaurant, Limoncello; making it easy to miss. It is worth stumbling upon. Inside, exposed brick, small candle votives and dim lighting make the interior intimate and cozy. We chose a 2004 Montepulciano Abruzzo, which my counterpart was hesitant on, but I loved from the get go. For a first course, we shared a sweet grilled flat bread topped with caramelized onions, butternut squash and chunks of melting goat. My only criticism was that I wished the chefs had used larger shavings of butternut squash, rather than small diced cubes of butternut, but who knows, maybe they were going for a dainty effect. Also, the bread was tough to cut, but I’ll stop complaining. Our next two dishes were a scallop truffle oiled risotto (must have been on my mind) and homemade butternut squash ravioli (repetitive, yes, but it has a reputation of being a crowd pleaser; don't worry, I asked). The scallops were seared to perfection, with the perfect hint of rich truffle oil. However, the risotto was more root vegetable based and I think threw off the richness of scallops. In addition, the vegetables weren’t as buttery or cooked through as I would’ve liked, so it was a bit distracting. Although extra points rewarded for pretty the plating. However, we were much less disappointed with the ravioli: as I slipped my fork into the transparently thin homemade ravioli, pureed butternut squash oozed out. I knew I had made the right choice. The wide, flat ravioli was smothered with butter and herbs and topped with hazelnuts, this dish was right on the money; delectable and absolutely savory; a perfect meal to celebrate the end (hopefully) of winter. Carmen’s isn’t cheap, but the menu is a-typical of the tiresome Americanized Italian fare that we are bombarded with in N.E. It proves to be a great date place, but better yet, go with your parents, so your meal isn’t weighing in on your prized checking account.

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