Italian to die for...

We went to Il Posto for the second time recently. Our first visit was fantastic, but a bit hazy due to a wait to be seated (our fault for showing up late for our reservation) and a subsequent deep exploration of the wine list (it was our second destination that evening and the first involved cocktails). This time, it was just two of us and we were on time.

We were seated at a decent two top. It's a small room with high ceilings and Friday night it was (almost) warm enough to have the garage doors which make up the front of the restaurant thrown wide open. The high ceilings make for crap acoustics, so you do have to yell a bit to have a conversation, but ultimately it's worth it. There can't be seating for more than 50 people, but it's loud enough that it sounds like 100.

How is it 'worth it'? I'd sit in just about any room to eat the food that comes out of this kitchen. The menu changes daily; it's posted up on chalkboards high up on the walls. The focus is on fresh, seasonal ingredients melded together into a perfect representation of the foods that Italians are so passionate about. There is an ever changing selection of starters, primi and secondi. It all looked so good, we had to have a bit of everything.

I started with a warm baby red chard salad. It would not even occur to me to use chard in a salad as it typically requires a bit of heat and love to make it delicious, which doesn't make me think 'salad', but after eating this, I need to broaden my definition. The chard was slightly wilted, then tossed with trumpet mushrooms and some soft, creamy Italian cheese that melts so completely that it turns into a lush, silken dressing. I was stupefied by the marriage of flavors and textures and tried to eat it slowly to savor every delicious bite. I'm afraid I'll never have a salad this good again.

My husband had a stuffed calamari dish. He's a guy that dearly loves your classic fried calamari when it's done right; crispy batter and tender inside, maybe with a bit of lemon. Well, this isn't like that at all. It's a big calamari steak stuffed with all manner of things; breadcrumbs, parsley, capers...I have no idea what else, then sliced into perfect rings, heaving with goodies. Suffice it to say, the dish really works. The calamari was cooked perfectly and the tang of the capers added a nice element of interest to the stuffing. The portion would have easily fed three or four.

A great start, so on to the primi. I would eat risotto any day of the week, but my husband was up for pasta and he chose one that looked very delectable. It was a homemade orichette, cooked al dente. None of that thumb-sized dried pasta here. These were substantial; nearly silver dollar sized, with a slightly chewy texture. It was tossed with a light tomato and arugula sauce that worked perfectly. Thank heavens we split it or we couldn't have eaten our secondi.

We split the secondi as well. It was a perfectly grilled hangar steak, sliced and fanned out on our plate. It was gorgeously red with a charred exterior and a tremendously flavorful, chewy interior. Hangar steak is a cut that's gaining popularity in restaurants; I'm guessing because it's still a bit cheap and it's lean and very delicious. It was served with a milk braised baby fennel. I'm not mad for anise, but fennel has taken root and grown on me like a weed. Braising is one of the best ways to prepare it. It makes it soft and creamy, and mellows out the sharpness of the licorice flavor. It's a lovely, simple dish to accompany something rich like a steak.

The wine we chose was a serviceable, though not inexpensive Valpolicella. The wine list is heavily if not entirely Italian and getting a recommendation from the sommelier or your waiter is probably a good idea unless you are a real Italian wine buff. The service is excellent and subtle, which is what I want when I'm enjoying a meal as much as I did this one. We were allowed to take our time and enjoy every minute of the evening.

I know I've somehow missed a few delicious details of this meal; but that's what happens when you don't sit down to write about it immediately. I was just too busy basking in the glow of Il Posto's food to be bothered with capturing the finer points in writing. Perhaps I'll do a better job next time. Or the time after that. Or the time after that. Or the time after that...

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