Antipasto Di Magro at Via Matta
by MC Slim JB
| September 07, 2009
Your friend calls up with weekend-night plans for you and your crew. The agenda calls for well-made Negronis, something to eat, maybe some wine — definitely some place lively and buzzing, where you can dress up a little. She says, “How do you feel about Italian?” Silently you curse, thinking, “I spent all spring at the gym to fit into this super-fabulous Alexander Wang getup, and we’re going for carb-loaded pastas and deep-fried cutlets drenched in Parmesan? Awesome.” Aloud, and trying not to sound testy, you ask, “Where are we going?” “Via Matta, 8 o’clock.” Aaaah: sigh of relief! That’s one place you know you can dine well without straining the seams of your cutest outfit.
This is no accident: Via Matta (79 Park Plaza, Boston, 617.422.0008) cultivates a stylish crowd that has little interest in Americanized red-sauce menus. Ubiquitous Boston celeb-chef Michael Schlow may spend most of his time at the exurban and casino outlets of his burgeoning empire, but he’s smart enough to hire gifted lieutenants to mind the kitchens at his busiest venues. At Via Matta, the working chef is Mike Pagliarini, an American with family roots in Umbria. While Pagliarini has added his own stamp to the menu, he continues to meticulously execute the restaurant’s signature dishes, drawing from the best of contemporary urban Italian cooking. One of these standbys of particular interest to the body-conscious is a dish that has been on Via Matta’s menu from the day it opened: the gorgeous Antipasto di Magro ($11), a vegetarian appetizer.
For non-speakers of l’italiano, magro
means “skinny,” but it also alludes to cucina di magro
, the already-healthy Mediterranean diet stripped down to its frugal essentials: fruit, legumes, seafood, and especially vegetables. This seasonally varying first course is a platter of three vegetable dishes that exploits the best of the seasonal moment. One corner might simply be grilled asparagus, baby beets, and shallots in a bit of good EVOO. Another might be a prettily composed salad of sunchokes, tomatoes, and sweet local corn, topped with verdant pea tendrils. The third might be a sauté of summer squashes and fennel, flecks of ripe olives, and cherry tomatoes. For many diners, this antipasto will be a meal, especially with the bruschetta slices that round off the platter. But if you skipped lunch, perhaps you could also get a bowl of vegetable soup ($9) with white beans and cavolo nero
(the beloved black cabbage of northern Italy), a classic example of Tuscan simplicity and frugality. For Via Matta’s sleekly turned-out clientele, these vegetarian dishes prove that skinny cuisine can be luxurious cuisine: food that tastes amazing and won’t stop you from looking amazing.