Dining Out: Rocca
A new chef puts this two-year-old South End restaurant back on the city’s culinary map.
With the pork, Faison is also playing with sous-vide techniques, ones that haven’t caught on here as much as they have in New York, maybe because Boston’s health department hasn’t decided what to do about them. (Boiling meat in vacuum-sealed plastic bags at a very low temperature for a very long time can carry risks of botulism; chefs in New York, led by Thomas Keller of Per Se and Dan Barber of Blue Hill, banded together to establish a code of practices for the health department to approve, but that hasn’t happened here yet.) Faison plays it safe, working not with meat but with fruit — like peaches and plums when they’re in season — in vacuum-packed bags to concentrate the sugars and intensify the color, something Keller does a lot. Faison told me she aims to use techniques like this only to heighten flavor, without throwing dishes — or diners — off balance.
Spicy tomato lasagne ($13) is another example of what other Boston chefs are doing, and doing well: freeform sheets of pillowy, very good pasta in a spicy tomato sauce with tripe and a poached egg on top, the kind of thing Jamie Bissonnette might serve up the street at Coppa. The non-Italian, Todd-type touches are lots of butter and shallots in the tomato sauce, snipped chives on top, and a heavy hand with salty pecorino Sardo and diced olives. Like the pork, though, the dish hits the salt-spice-sweet bliss point.
Sadly, not much else does. When Faison adds bitter elements to the mix, the results can be weird, as with squid-ink strozzapreti ($14), a semolina pasta in a sauce of sweet shrimp, a 50-50 emulsion of olive oil and tomato sauce, and mentaiko, a spicy roe. Here the roe, combined with a pesto in which escarole substitutes for basil, just seems strange. So does the squid ink in the dough; the overwhelming salt and bitter edge make the dish pretty unpleasant.
Gnocchetti ($19), mini potato gnocchi, are better. Lobster coral and uni enhance the sweet chunks of charred lobster meat in the dish. But Faison can’t resist adding soy lecithin to the puréed uni-coral mixture to turn it into a foam, and I’ve pretty much had it with foams. You have to make a strong case that the flavor has more impact with the addition of air, and this doesn’t. Taleggio envelopes ($14), though, make a persuasive argument for carrageenan, another food-industry additive that chefs use to improve texture. Here it adds body to the cheese filling. Carrot juice in the dough, carrot mousse on the plate, and fresh peas and tendrils as a garnish together create a delicate but hearty dish.