High ceilings, large windows letting in plenty of light, long red curtains, cool swirly globe lamps, and one of the coolest wall murals I've seen in a long time all set the stage for a fantastic meal at Tavolo in Dorchester. The restaurant, which mostly has a name as a pizza place, hosted a dinner for ten bloggers last night, and they really took the chance to showcase some of their dishes that stray away from pizza and pasta.
I took a seat facing the wall, and usually I wouldn't spend so much time avoiding my dining companions, but the wall murals by local artist Kiki Ikura were just tremendous - it looked like chalk on a blackboard, but was smudgeless, and was whimsical and lighthearted without being silly or childish. She painted two walls like this, using a cherry picker to get all the way up to the ceiling, and they murals give a lot of life to the room and the restaurant.
We started off with a light salad of watermelon, feta, lemon, olive oil, mint, and basil. Watermelon and feta are really an amazing combination, and this version of the dish was a perfect balance of sweet and salty and tart. I even sopped up the leftover juices with a slice of bread.
Next was gnocchi alla Gricia, little puffs of potato with pancetta, pecorino, and local fava beans. I guess I've had too many bad renditions of gnocchi - hard, dense, gummy, or just gross - but these were fantastic. They were light and fluffy, didn't stick to my teeth, and soaked up just enough of the sauce to take on the flavors without becoming too sticky. The pancetta and pecorino added salt and umami, and the fava beans were a nice surprise of bright, fresh flavor. I would have been content to just eat a big bowl of this and call it a night...
We also enjoyed a taste of the house's meatballs, which were amazing. They were homey and evenly spiced, and the tomato sauce they came in was something that the chef had obviously spent a long time cooking. On the regular menu, the meatballs feature prominently - they can be added to many of the pasta dishes, or can be front-and-center in a panini. Definitely a dish to take advantage of.
After the gnocchi and meatballs, we moved on to a swordfish involtini. This was one of the many things that were on our menu that I would never order, but yet greatly enjoyed the way it was cooked at Tavolo. I'm just not a fan of swordfish - but after eating this, I think it may be because it is usually served in thick steaks without much seasoning, which brings out the fishy flavor to me. The involtini was a thin slice of fish, wrapped around a mash of fontina, garlic, and parsley. It was so tasty, in fact, that I cleaned the plate. (Note for my parents, who are undoubtedly going to read this and think swordfish is now my favorite fish: Unless you wrap it around cheese and garlic, I don't want it.)
Next up was a roast duck breast, served over faro and fresh string beans, with a little bit of red currant jam. Duck is another thing I don't like, but this rendition was nicely cooked and had a delightful crispy skin. The beans were perfectly cooked - still crispy, but not raw, and with enough salt to really bring out their flavor.
By then, we were all stuffed, but still felt the need for something sweet to wrap up the meal. We were served a blueberry "Genetti" cake - toasted blueberry pound caked with a touch of whipped cream and a light blueberry sauce. (For those of you keeping track at home, blueberries are another food I can't stand, but were very actually quite tasty in this form.) I absolutely loved that the cake was toasted - the edges were crisp and almost caramelized, which took something simple like pound cake to a whole different level.
Looking more closely at my menu and the restaurant's regular menu, I see that almost all of what we ate is not on the regular menu. That being said, each and every bite was delicious, and I'm sure the regular offerings are just as good. Tavolo is really trying to get away from their image as "just" a pizza place, and if the dishes I tried were any indication, they are definitely doing a great job of it.