Abruzzo-Style Polenta Dinner At Lucia Ristorante

Lucia Ristorante, Boston, Mass.

In Boston's North End, way down Hanover Street, stands Lucia Ristorante in the same place it's been since it opened in 1977. Lucia was actually the first restaurant to bring authentic Italian food to the North End (according to their website). Owner Donato and his family hail from the Abruzzo region of Italy and share the foods Abruzzo is known for, such as maccheroni chitarra, as well as innovative new dishes.

I was invited to Lucia for a polenta dinner hosted by Donato. I had never been to Lucia before, and as it was a particularly chilly evening, I was looking forward to the hearty polenta meal and discovering a new restaurant. I had no idea that this dinner would be one of the most fun, laid-back events I'd ever attended.

I met Daisy and Meghan after work, and after unwinding at Daisy's apartment for a little bit before the event, we all walked over together. We were led upstairs to a cozy, brick-wall-lined room with a large communal table set up in the middle. Here we met Donato, who welcomed us with open arms, and some of his family members who also work at the restaurant. Soon, the rest of the guests arrived, and we started on dinner.

As we made our way through course after course, Donato told us about Lucia, his family, and his country and asked us all about ourselves. Often blogger events can be pretty formal, but this just felt like having dinner with friends and family. There was back and forth conversation around the table all evening long.

The meal started with fresh bread and butter and free-flowing red wine, a Sangiovese from Puglia.

Then we were treated to generous antipasti plates full of sharp provolone, prosciutto di parma, marinated roasted peppers, and (my favorite) marinated eggplant.

Antipasti platter at Lucia Ristorante, Boston, Mass.

Next we tried two kinds of bruschetta, one topped with mushrooms and another topped with broccoli rabe. I loved the mushroom topping and the crisp grilled bread and tasted the broccoli rabe even though I am not a huge fan. It was actually prepared in such a way as to not be as bitter as I'm used to.

Mushroom bruschetta at Lucia Ristorante, Boston, Mass.

Donato joked that he was making us some Chinese food that evening as well. When we saw the platters of sautéed shrimp come out, we understood. But instead of having any Asian flavors, these shrimp were doused with balsamic vinegar, which made them sweet and tangy.

Sauteed shrimp at Lucia Ristorante, Boston, Mass.

Then it was time for the reason we were all there: the polenta. In Abruzzo polenta is traditionally made on the coldest day in a big pot over a fire. Polenta is considered peasant fare and could have been topped with something like pig jowl. As opposed to a creamy polenta, which you might be more accustomed to seeing, Abruzzo-style polenta is very thick and is typically spread on boards, topped with an assortment of sauces, and served family style.

Donato brought us down to the kitchen to see how it's made.

We headed back upstairs and soon large platters of the firm, smooth polenta with an array of toppings were set before us. I first tried the braised rabbit, which permeated the air with the scent of truffles. The gamy meat was served in a mildly sweet gravy. (This was my third time trying rabbit in a matter of weeks!)

Braised rabbit at Lucia Ristorante, Boston, Mass.

Next I took a generous helping of polenta with braised short rib and homemade sausage topping. The tender short ribs and homemade sausages were full of flavor, and while I loved the gravy in the rabbit dish, I loved the red sauce even more.

Polenta with braised short rib and sausage at Lucia Ristorante, Boston, Mass.

The final polenta dish featured a topping of braised lamb shank and pork riblets. I forgot to scoop up some of the pork, but I tried the lamb, which fell easily from the bone.

Polenta with braised lamb shank and pork riblets at Lucia Ristorante, Boston, Mass.

While polenta may be simple peasant food, I found it (and the various toppings) very rich, interesting, flavorful, and, yes, homey and comforting.

No dinner is complete without dessert, and Lucia did not disappoint. Platters of hazelnut cake and coconut and lemon sorbetto soon followed our hearty polenta dinner. The hazelnut cake was grilled and served slightly warm with a bowl of creme anglaise on the side for us to drizzle on top. It was sweet and nutty. Being that it's not so rich, it's something I could also see myself eating for breakfast. The lemon sorbetto was smooth and tasty, but the coconut sorbetto stole the show for me with its very natural coconut flavor.

Desserts at Lucia Ristorante, Boston, Mass.

And because we were at an Italian restaurant, I felt I couldn't leave without a steaming cup of Italian coffee. It was just the thing to cut the sweet sorbettos. (I probably should have asked for decaf, though, as it was almost 9 p.m. Oops!)

This was a wonderful dinner in so many ways. The food was impressive in spite of its simplicity and we learned so much. We felt like we were sitting down to dinner with family, and I hope I'm not being too optimistic when I say I'm really hoping that all of our meals in Italy will be just like this one!

Thank you so much to Donato and everyone at Lucia for treating us to such a special evening!

This dinner was complimentary but as always my opinions are my own.

While the dishes we tried are not on Lucia's regular menu, they are thinking about hosting a monthly polenta dinner, so you could soon have the opportunity to try this fabulous Abruzzo staple too!

One thing that came up at the dinner was whether people would just want a quick tour of the kitchen like we got or whether they'd like to actually learn to cook some dishes and then dine on those dishes. I would love to get into the kitchen and cook. What about you?


Joanne said...

I love polenta to no end and could eat it just about every day and be happy. Little ever really sounds better to me than a delicious ragu or sauce over some polenta. This dinner all looks SO GOOD.

Daisy said...

when we went back on saturday everyone got sorbetto for dessert (I had to go with the coconut...swoon) and they also have a mandarin orange which one of my friends got!!

Emily @ A Cambridge Story said...

This meal looks so comforting! I need to eat more creamy polenta and stop buying those crappy logs from TJs!

In and Around Town said...

That dinner looks amazing - being a non-tomato person I love bruschetta with alternative toppings. I am with you though- definitely get into the kitchen and cook!!

FunandFearlessinBeantown said...

I love getting in the kitchen and cooking too!

Elizabeth said...

The polenta looks so good. I love the space too with the exposed brick

Colleen McConnell said...

That polenta looks like my ideal hearty winter meal, and that short rib and sausage ragu is making me really hungry right now...

And, as a total food nerd, I also love the idea of learning to cook the dishes before eating!

Shannon said...

mmm, already added to my list so i can satisfy this polenta craving you guys have given me :)

Bianca Garcia said...

I'm really bummed I had to miss this dinner. I love polenta (and yes, I'd like to get a tour of the kitchen!). I will definitely go next time they have a polenta dinner.

Olga @ MangoTomato said...

a polenta dinner!? how amazing is that? I LOVE polenta. my mom used to make it for breakfast with feta when I was little. YUM.

I think it's so great that you got a tour of the kitchen: everyone seems so friendly and passionate.

DeliciousDish said...

Polenta and feta?! I so need to try that!

Olga @ MangoTomato said...

yes! she would just make a pot of polenta, and when it was done, add chunks of feta. the cheese would not melt completely, which was perfect. salty, creamy, delicious. i was planning to blog about it, but the pictures were horrendously unappetizing.

Sacha said...

I love polenta that's served on a board. The meal looks incredible! Somehow, I'm pretty sure I went this whole winter without polenta. Maybe I'll have to take a trip to Lucia.

I would definitely also like to get in the kitchen!

Molly said...

Looks like you had a great meal. Love the bubbling cauldrons of sauce and polenta.

Last semester I took a class about the history of the North End. It was a sociology class, but I looked at it through a food studies lens as I used the credits towards my degree. That being said, I, um, question Lucia's boast about it being the first restaurant to serve Italian food in the neighborhood. But that would be a conversation between my professor and Donato. :)

Simply Life said...

I've eaten here before and really enjoyed it! Love that you got to see the kitchen!

Gail said...

So where is the diet food?

Reeni said...

Everything looks delicious! My Great Grandma was from Abruzzo and made polenta similar to this! She served it on a huge board in the middle of the table that you had to eat off - no plates. If there was a certain piece of meat you wanted you had to eat your way to it you weren't allowed to jump around.