Holiday Strollin' And Dinner In The North End

Last Friday night, Jeff and I had plans to meet friends for dinner in the North End. As Friday drew closer, I realized our dinner coincided with the annual North End Holiday Stroll -- an event during which participating North End shops and boutiques offer special discounts and even samples from 7-11 p.m. We pre-strolled a little, met our friends for a 7 p.m. dinner reservation, and continued strolling after dinner.

We planned to have dinner at Pulcinella Mozzarella Bar and Restaurant, and I have to say I had some pretty high expectations. How can you not have high expectations of a place that bills itself as a mozzarella bar?

Our waitress was friendly and greeted and seated us right away. I thought the atmosphere in the restaurant was a little blah. I was hoping for something cozier, but we were at least drawn in by the really cool slanted glasses on our table. We ordered a bottle of wine to share, started nibbling on the bread and seasoned oil on the table, and then began looking over the menu. 

There were three mozzarellas to choose from: traditional buffalo mozzarella, smoked buffalo mozzarella, and burrata. The menu suggested ordering a mozzarella and then choosing some salumi and verdure accompaniments to go with it, so that's what we did. We got the smoked mozzarella, the 12-year prosciutto, oven-cured tomatoes, and marinated olives. There was a stuffed artichoke special, so we tried one of those to start as well.

The mozzarella platter was generous, with three large pieces of the smoky cheese, a heap of tomatoes and olives, some mixed greens, and several slices of prosciutto. This was definitely the best part of the whole meal. I loved the accompaniments we choose, and it was nice to mix and match the smoky cheese, sweet tomatoes, briny olives, and salty prosciutto to create different flavor combinations.

Mozzarella platter at Pulcinella Mozzarella Bar and Restaurant, Boston, Mass.

The stuffed artichoke was also tasty, but I wanted even more flavor from it and even more stuffing. The leaves were tender and perfectly cooked, and we all loved when we got to the super-soft leaves at the center.

Stuffed artichoke at Pulcinella Mozzarella Bar and Restaurant, Boston, Mass.

The entrees paled in comparison to these starters, with some hits and some misses. Our friend Zac got the veal piccata, which came topped with large capers and had a potato cake on the side. He cleaned his plate.

Veal piccata at Pulcinella Mozzarella Bar and Restaurant, Boston, Mass.

Our friend Kathleen had the duck special that night, and sadly her duck was overcooked. It also had some fall spices, reminding us of Asian flavors, and we really didn't expect that from an Italian dish.

Duck at Pulcinella Mozzarella Bar and Restaurant, Boston, Mass.

I had the short rib ravioli, also a special that night. Besides that the ravioli looked nothing like I expected -- I thought there would be long shreds of short rib -- these were pretty good, and I was sharing them with everyone at the table because the portion was so big... or maybe it just seemed so big after polishing off that mozzarella platter! The meat was really tender, the sauce was full of flavor from some wild mushrooms, and the pasta was good too.

Short rib ravioli at Pulcinella Mozzarella Bar and Restaurant, Boston, Mass.

As soon as Jeff saw the mozzarella-stuffed meatballs on the menu, he had it in his head that he was going to order them, so his dinner was one of the biggest letdowns. He went hunting for the mozzarella in the meatballs and found small traces of the cheese near the edge of each meatball. We all expected him to cut into the meatball and find mozzarella oozing out. His tomato sauce and paccheri were good, though. (I had paccheri in Italy, so I was excited to see it on the menu.)

Mozzarella-stuffed meatballs at Pulcinella Mozzarella Bar and Restaurant, Boston, Mass.

We decided to skip dessert and head over to Cocoanuts Boston, one of the shops participating in the holiday stroll, instead. (Jeff and I had actually gone in here earlier to scope it out and that's when I took these pictures. When we went back later, the store was packed!)

Cocoanuts, Boston, Mass.

There were little tables set up with samples on them. Some chocolate bark studded with macadamia nuts was particularly good, as were some little peppermint candies.

Cocoanuts, Boston, Mass.Cocoanuts, Boston, Mass.

A counter near the back showcased all sorts of interesting candies and we selected four different ones to bring home to try: baklava, Persephone pomegranate, sea salt caramel, and apple pie caramel. We also saw sticky bun chocolates in the case and learned that we could buy a five-pack of these, so of course we did. I haven't tried one yet because I caught a horrible cold this weekend, but Jeff says they taste just like sticky buns.

Chocolates at Cocoanuts, Boston, Mass.

The store is full of treats, many made by local artisans, and is worth a stop, especially if you're doing Christmas or Hanukkah shopping for someone with a sweet tooth.

Cocoanuts, Boston, Mass.Cocoanuts, Boston, Mass.

Cocoanuts, Boston, Mass.

We finally tore ourselves away from the chocolates and strolled over to The Wine Bottega to taste some wines. Jeff and I ended up buying a bottle of Lambrusco, and our friends got a bottle of Montepulciano. I'd actually never been in The Wine Bottega before that night, and I loved the shop and its large selection of Italian wines, not to mention that the people who work there are super-friendly and helpful... and know their wines. The Wine Bottega is actually doing an event with Cocoanuts on December 19, which would be a great way to check out what both places have to offer.

Staying on the wine kick, we walked into Volle Nolle, a little wine bar our friends know well but that we had never been to. I could see myself going there regularly if I lived in the North End. It's really cute and cozy. There's a chalkboard on one wall listing wines that are available by the glass or the bottle. Three of us shared a bottle of Malbec; Jeff had a glass of Gruner Veltliner. As we were finishing our wine, our waiter brought over a chocolate chip cookie for each of us. The cookies quickly made it on my amazing chocolate chip cookie list: They were crispy, buttery, and generously filled with chocolate -- the perfect ending to a fun evening.

Sorry for the terrible iPhone picture!
What holiday events are on your radar?