Restaurant Review: Giulia in Cambridge
The latest Italian newcomer favors authenticity over flash, mostly to great success.
Giulia’s calling card—the one it means to build its reputation on—is its pastas, which are rolled out daily on a custom-built high table that seats 12 for dinner. They’re all made in house, using a machine by the American manufacturer Arcobaleno that Pagliarini says he fell in love with when he helped Gabriel Frasca open Ventuno, on Nantucket. It has the bronze dies that create a rough, sauce-holding texture, and the results Pagliarini gets are more impressive than what other chefs achieve on similar machines. Farro casarecce ($16) is made with emmer, an older-variety wheat that’s usually too soft to give pasta any bite. Pagliarini’s casarecce was convincingly al dente, with a woodsy mushroom sauce that played up the natural nuttiness.
The filling in the giant veal-breast ravioli ($19) tasted like it was made in Italy, with its handchopped veal breast, sweetbreads, and Swiss chard. It was a Sunday-company dish, sophisticated and rich. Bucatini all’amatriciana ($17) featured a convincing rendering of the classic Roman sauce, with the addition of house-cured pancetta instead of the usual peppery guanciale. Orecchiette, a type of pasta from the southern Puglia region made without oil or yolks ($14), was a rare misstep, lacking the firmness it needed.
When it came to the main courses, Pagliarini’s high ambitions—and his penchant for butter and elegant sauces—often gave dishes a haute-cuisine polish that defied the restaurant’s restrained philosophy and the relatively minimalist approach of his Italian forebears. Skate wing ($23) was dredged in flour and served with lots of brown butter, à la meunière. It was too soft and too salty from the Castelvetrano olives and capers (a traditional Italian touch), the fish tasting of just breading and butter. A warm beet-and-olive salad provided no textural relief. Pan-roasted cod with clam risotto ($28) was also mushy and salty, the well-made risotto as unmemorable as the fish. And yet a simple plate of farm-raised Maine salmon with asparagus, fennel, and mint in mushroom broth ($25) was incredibly fresh-tasting, the dish a distillation of spring.
The flavors clear up and stand out in the meat dishes, particularly in two main courses featuring sausage: lamb sausage with big white beans and chili-flecked broccoli rabe ($18); and pan-roasted quail, the deboned poultry certainly fine but peripheral beside a terrific coarse-ground pork sausage ($28). It was served with the lentils Pagliarini says will always be on the menu, to remind him of his past.
What Giulia does best is translate local, seasonal goods into Italian, and offer good pasta and really superior sausage. The nightly crowds look entirely drawn from the neighborhood, and like they’ll be perfectly happy to keep the place to themselves, thank you very much. Giulia has the same sincerity Bondir did early on. Like Bondir, I think its loyalty will continue to grow—and for good reason.
Giulia, 1682 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-441-2800, giuliarestaurant.com.
Critic Corby Kummer—an editor at The Atlantic and author of The Pleasures of Slow Food—has been reviewing Greater Boston’s top restaurants in our pages since 1997.