Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A little Irony and some tasty food at Alta Strada in MGM Grande

I've mentioned on the blog before how one of the perks of Jessica being an "independant contractor" in the poker room are the comp points at Foxwoods/MGM Grand and that we use them for culinary adventures.  Monday night we took a trip down to Hopkinton to visit my brother's new baby, Autumn, and then headed off to MGM for dinner.  We were torn between our favorite pit stop in the casino, Craftsteak, and Micheal Shlow's Alta Strada.  Finally, possibly swayed by Jessica's craving for pizza cooked in a wood fired oven, we decided on Italian.

For us the irony about going to this restaurant is that we both like many things on the menu but not the same things.  Everything I seem to think is incredible, like the chilled Shrimp Fra Diavlo and the crunchy Veal Meatballs with spicy tomato sauce, Jessica just thinks is blah.  And she's blown away by these really simple dishes on the menu that I just think are underwhelming, like the arugula salad.  It's literally just lemon juice, olive oil, lettuce and shaved parm.  For like 16 bucks.  Very weird to order this in a restaurant IMO, just sayin'...  One thing we both love is the herb oil they serve with the bread though.  This stuff is seriously delicious.  Its always a nice touch when a restaurant pays attention to the bread service. It really does set the tone for the rest of the meal.  Just look at the beautiful verdant color on that plate.  I love preparations that harness the flavor of basil without knocking you over the head with it and this is a great example. 

Our first course was another one of Jessica's favorites on the menu, the Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza.  I half heartedly tried to talk her in to something else, but I gave in quickly because I knew I'd get the meatballs I was craving if I was a good boy and didn't complain too much.  Pizza was decent, underwhelming but tasty and fresh.

Ok, I admit, meatballs are passe'.  They're totally 1980's.  But I don't really care because I love a good meatball.  The veal meatballs at Alta Strada reward my faith in the concept.  They deep fry them, but keep them moist in the center and serve them with a spicy tomato sauce, little bit of basil in there and I'm guessing some red pepper.  Nice rounded flavor, great texture and a big portion for an appetizer.  I have a hard time not ordering this when we eat here.   For me this simple looking plate of meatballs was the highlight of the meal.

One cool thing at Alta Strada is that you can order half sizes of the pasta entrees.  That way you can taste and try more food which is what we love about eating out in the first place.  I ordered the Maltagliati with Spicy Pork Ragu and against my will (again) Jess picked the Ricotta Ravioli with brown butter, tomatoes and prosciutto.   I was all about the Maltagliati, until I tasted it.  For some reason the ragu reminded me of barbecue pulled pork.  I love the rustic hand torn feel of the pasta and the ricotta in this dish but I couldn't quite fall in love with it like I wanted to.  It was very spicy too, bordering on too spicy for the average palate and overall I was a little disappointed.  Continuing on our opposites theme, Jessica really liked it.

One thing I really believe in when it comes to food is having an open mind.  I was bored by the idea of the ricotta ravioli with brown butter and prosciutto.  Gotta admit, we've all seen this one before many many times.  But Alta Strada does a pretty good rendition of this classic.  The ravioli is actually three cheeses, fontina, mozzarella and ricotta and the flavors are subtle but nice. We thought the dish could use a little texture, like maybe walnuts or toasted pine nuts and Jessica found the filling a little grainy, but overall it left a good impression and we left with very full bellies. 

We had a nice time and a couple of the Black Cherry Mojitos as well, which are very delicious.   If you like the Italian classics done well with a little bit of twist then this is a restaurant you want to check out.  The dining room is nice, service is good and for the most part the menu is moderately priced.   Jessica eats dinner there a lot when she's playing poker and she usually gets out for 25 bucks, tip included.

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