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Restaurant Review of Strega Prime

March 17, 2014 by tablecritic in Restaurant Reviews

By Rachel Lebeaux – The Strega brand carries a lot of weight in the Boston area. The Italian-cuisine empire helmed by Nick Varano includes Strega locations at Fan Pier and in the North End, Nico, also in the North End and, soon, Strip by Strega in the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.

Strega’s most recent opening is Strega Prime in Woburn, a 350-seat space that opened in August 2013 off Route 128 (it’s hard to miss its name emblazoned in neon lights across the façade) in the TradeCenter 128 complex. The restaurant combines the Italian classics on which Strega has made its name with the prime cuts of beef and fresh seafood of a high-end steakhouse, in a kitchen overseen by head chef Farouk Bazoune, formerly of Mooo…. in Beacon Hill.

The space itself absolutely sparkles. Gigantic, circular chandeliers glimmer over the large wraparound bar at the entrance and above the white tablecloths and black leather booths in the plush main dining room. A bank of televisions playing old black-and-white movies and a multi-compartment fireplace line one wall; racked wine bottles climb another. Colorful paintings of recognizable actors, musicians and other performers past and present adorn the walls in both the main dining room and the adjacent spaces that can be used for private parties. White-jacketed wait staff float from table to table. In short: Strega Prime oozes elegance. A lot of businesspeople visit during the week; locals make up the bulk of the diners on the weekends.

Our waiter, Frank Gioi, was not only congenial, but knew every intricacy of the menu and doled out excellent recommendations. Aside from ice cream and sorbets, everything is made from scratch in-house, he explained, starting with the complimentary popovers. The doughy, hollow rolls, resembling airy beehives, were served warm with whipped butter and olive oil and a heavy sprinkle of sea salt.

Drinks: From the cocktail and martini menu, the Italian Amigo ($9), a mix of Patron Silver tequila, Aperol (an Italian aperatif), lime and mint, struck us ass watered-down at first. We could taste the tequila, but we’d expected a drink akin to a Mexican mojito, and something about the balance of ingredients seemed off. Upon request, the bar refreshed the drink for us, to much better results. The Ginger Snap ($10), composed of Grey Goose L’Orange, Domaine de Canton Ginger liqueur, a hint of maple syrup and ginger ale, was at once a refreshing and toasty sip on a cold night.

There are 40-plus wines offered by the glass, and more than 1,300 bottles on the wine list. For real high rollers, there are even 55 lockers, bearing individuals’ names, where one can reserve a bottle ahead of time. We would enjoy a few wines paired with different courses throughout the meal, under the tutelage of Stephane Colinet, the restaurant’s assistant general manager, whose recommendations were all on point.

Appetizers: Strega Prime’s smallest seafood tower ($26) wasn’t so much a tower as a mesa — in other words, all on a single level. It featured two luscious East Coast oysters (plump, briny Wellfleets) and two West Coast oysters (smaller, sweeter Kumamotos) served with a champagne-based mignonette with a raspberry float. Two jumbo shrimp, the U10 variety (fewer than 10 per pound) were delicious on their own, and especially tasty dunked in the accompanying cocktail sauce.  Finally, a half-lobster tail offered sweet, juicy meat that went well with a splendid lemon aioli.

The veal and pancetta dumplings ($15) are among the restaurant’s most popular appetizers; without that billing, I wouldn’t have ordered them, but they lived up to the hype. The five, thin-skinned wontons sat in a ginger-soy sauce, thickened with black-bean paste, that was a little salty and totally savory. Add a shower of micro-cilantro, and soak up some of that sauce with your remaining popover, and you’ve got yourself an unexpectedly addictive appetizer.

In the tuna crudo ($18), cubes of deep-pink, sushi-grade raw tuna were formed into a circular patty and sealed with a little sesame aioli, woven with scallions and cilantro, and suffused with a slightly spicy soy-ginger sauce. On either side, two giant, crispy wafers, studded with black sesame seeds, looked like giant angel wings ready to transport the tuna heavenward. I know steakhouses like to do it big, but the wafers threatened to overwhelm the tuna both visually and, in some cases, taste-wise, depending on whether a particular bite of the wafer was paper-thin or had a thicker consistency. Of course, I’m nitpicking — this was a fantastic dish, the fresh tuna resonating in each bite.

Our first wine pairing of the night accompanied the tuna: a 2012 Sancerre sauvignon blanc from France’s Loire Valley ($13), fruity with good acidity.  Strega’s Italian influence shined with the burrata ($16), which roughly translates to “life-affirming.” (All right, it actually means “buttered.”) A mound of burrata is solid mozzarella on the outside encasing more mozzarella mixed with cream, giving the interior the softest, most decadent texture and taste I could imagine. The burrata sat atop a wispy layer of prosciutto di parma that could have been painted onto the plate, and it’s all crisscrossed with a very intense, concentrated balsamic glaze and topped with three on-the-vine tomatoes and micro-arugula. What a combination — one of the best surprises of the meal.

Sticking with classic Italian, we dove into a pasta course featuring the pappardelle ($15 for a half-portion). Handmade in house and cooked to a perfect al dente, the wide ribbons were drowned in a rich bolognese, a blend of veal, Wagyu beef and pancetta smothered in sumptuous red sauce. A blob of mozzarella and a basil sprig perched on top added some beautiful color to an entirely satisfying course.

The accompanying wine to the pappardelle, a 2009 Damilano Barolo Lecinquevigne from Piedmont, Italy ($17), was supple with bright fruit flavors, a good transition wine heading into the main course.

Entrees:  All of the steaks at Strega Prime are grass fed and free range. Only 2 percent of all beef in the U.S. is the highest-quality “prime” cut but, as the name of the restaurant implies, 100 percent of the steaks here fall under that category. They’re supplied by Kinnealey Meats, hail mostly from Midwest farms and are dry-aged for up to 40 days. In case you’re no expert on steak selection, Strega Prime lists its cuts on the menu from least to most fatty, and you can make your meal a surf-and-turf by adding shrimp ($12), lobster tail ($19) or foie gras ($12).

Our selection, the 16 oz. dry-aged rib eye ($47), blew us away. A perfect medium-rare, the beautiful cut boasted a smoky char on the outside and the most tender, juicy meat within. It didn’t matter that we were filling up by this point in the meal — we relished every bite (and appreciated the steak knives provided to match our individual hand sizes). The steak came with a truffle butter, and we ordered the smoky Madeira-peppercorn and the house balsamic-and-brown-sugar Strega sauce ($2 each), which were terrific, but to be honest the steak didn’t need anything to enhance it — it was flawless on its own.

Alongside the steak, our wine was a “Super Tuscan” sangiovese-cabernet blend ($15) — “a baby brother of the cabernet,” Colinet explained. The dark-red wine, with darker, smoky flavors, stood up well to the steak. We were especially impressed with the progression of the wines throughout the meal, and all from glasses on the by-the-glass menu. If you don’t fancy yourself a wine expert, you’d be well-advised to put yourself in Colinet’s capable hands.

The wine wasn’t our only accompaniment to the steak. From the a la carte menu, risotto ($14) dotted with wild mushrooms and scented with truffle oil was tasty and well-textured. Brussels sprouts ($8), prepared in cider and tossed with cubed pancetta, were among the best I’ve had, the apple-tinged sweetness the ideal contrast for the inherent bitterness of the sprightly sprouts.

Our other entrée, the Chilean sea bass ($43), featured a thick piece of the delicate snow-white fish bronzed around the edges. It’s hard to get sea bass crispy on the outside without overcooking the rest, but Strega Prime pulled it off, yielding fish that fork-flaked easily and was well-served by a flavorful white-wine sauce. A nest of yellow Yukon potato gnocchi were so satisfyingly light as to dissolve in your mouth, while bright green English peas practically popped. Three red tomatoes on the vine atop the bass lent the dish an acidic component, and capped a color scheme that resembled a rainbow.

Desserts:  For dessert, we quickly settled on the Nutella bread pudding ($9), a huge and decadent portion served in an oversized ramekin. “No one ever finishes it,” we were assured with a smile. The sweet, slightly gritty scoop of mascarpone gelato on top was a cooling counterpoint, and an espresso ($4) a nice supplement on the side.

Finally, a complimentary bite-sized lemon cake, moist and frosted in citrus-y stripes, marked the end of a superb, memorable meal.

Assessment: Strega Prime carries the Varano torch with aplomb. The addition of prime cuts of beef alongside the chain’s signature Italian classics adds up to a steakhouse with sizzle, style, super service and savory eats aplenty, served with “the bigger, the better” panache.

Address: Trade Center 128, 100 Sylvan Road, Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-3333
Website: http://www.stregaprime.com
Cuisine: Italian-American
Price: Appetizers $10-$28; entrees $24-$59; desserts $9
Hours: Lunch: Mon-Fri: 11:30am-4pm; dinner daily: 4pm-close. Brunch Sun: 10:30am-3pm
Features: Private seating and events, full bar and extensive wine list, personal wine lockers for special guests.
Recommendations: Seafood tower, tuna crudo, veal and pancetta dumplings, burrata, pappardelle, dry-aged rib eye, Chilean sea bass, wild mushroom and truffle risotto, Brussels sprouts, Chilean sea bass, Nutella bread pudding.
Parking: Parking lot, valet
Payment Options: Major credit cards

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