Many of the best restaurants in Boston can be traced back to Michela Larson. During the 80's boom the restaurant she started, Michela's was one of the hottest places in the Boston area. When the boom ended, Michela's closed, but the alumni went on to greater glory. Chef Todd English founded Olives in Charlestown (and later five other cities), Figs, Bonfire, Kingfish Hall, and half a dozen others. Managers Esti (Benson) Parsons and Christopher Myers followed Michela to her new restaurant Rialto in Harvard Square before going on to found Radius, Great Bay, Via Matta and Alta Strada. Michela herself opened Blu and Red Clay in addition to Rialto. Now she has left all of that behind to concentrate on one big, new place in the South End and looks like it will be a big success.
We visited Rocca last night on its tenth night in operation and it was bustling. It is located in a neighborhood better known for artists' studios than for food, although that may soon change. Rocca specializes in cuisine from the Liguria region of Italy.
On our waiter's recommendation, we started with the Wild Mushroom Toasts ($5), two small pieces of bread with mushrooms, pecorino, parsley, herbs, and olive oil - just enough the whet the appetite. For a first course we had the Veal-Stuffed Zucchini with fresh tomato sauce ($7) and Spring Green Panzotti ($14) - which were ravioli stuffed with spinach and chard and then served with a delicious walnut sauce. The pasta dishes are European sized - suitable for an appetizer rather than a main course.
By this time we had opened a bottle of 2005 Arnaldo Caprai Grecante ($42) from Umbria. It was fruity but delicate, with a touch of citrus and grass. Manager Gary Sullivan spent several months traveling though Italy and putting together the wine list. It's all Italian and almost everything is in the $25-$45 range.
For our main course, we had the Roasted Whole Fish ($24), a Branzini with herbs, olives, potatoes, tomatoes and pine nuts served in the roasting pan (pictured at right) and the Burrida ($21), a fish stew served over toasted ciabatta.
Dessert was worth waiting for, especially the Smashed Almond Bark ($7) - something between a cookie and a shortbread (lots of eggwhite - like a dacoise) and whole almonds, served with a dark chocolate dipping sauce. Michela told us she had something like it in Milan and experimented quite a bit before they got the result they were looking for.
The waiter was very knowledgeable about the menu and the manager, Gary, knew everything about the wine list. There were a few, small hiccups in the service, like the mushroom toasts arriving late (comp'd as a result) and an extra dessert we didn't order (promptly and cheerfully removed from the bill). For a place that had only been open for a few weeks I would say it performed admirably on a very busy Saturday night. The food was creative, delicious, and reasonably priced for what we got.
There is a lively bar downstairs and a large dining room upstairs. The front half is lively and quite loud. The rear is quieter but still festive. In the summer they plan to serve dinner on a large patio adjacent to the bar. We will definitely be back.
500 Harrison Avenue
Boston, MA 02118
Valet parking $8.00