The first time I ate at Giulia in Cambridge was back in September 2013. I went with one of my best friends and we sat at the bar, sampling our way through every section of the menu. We were blown away by the quality of the food and the brilliant combination of flavors.
During that meal we had the opportunity to meet the restaurant's manager. I had seen the large, wooden table at the back of the restaurant and asked if it was possible to sit there. It was then that I learned about Giulia's unique private dining option called the pasta table.
The pasta table is a gorgeous, high top, wooden table at the very far end of the dining room that sits directly in front of the open kitchen. During the daytime Chef Mike Pagliarini and his team use the table to roll, cut and shape the restaurant's house made pasta. In the evening, the table is transformed into a venue for family-style private dining.
I have returned to Giulia a few times since my very first visit, including a dinner to celebrate my brother-in-law's birthday during the first week of January. It was during that meal that I decided 2016 would be the year I finally experienced the pasta table. I was so committed that I added it to my formal list of 2016 new year's resolutions.
This past Saturday, at long last, my pasta table dreams came true. I had secured a reservation for the 8:15pm seating (they also have a seating at 5:15pm).
Giulia is located on Massachusetts Avenue, in between Harvard Square and Porter Square. They don't have their own parking lot, so you have to pray for a metered spot on the street. Luckily, I got a spot just two crosswalks away.
The hostess ushered us back to the pasta table. It was even more beautiful than I had remembered, decorated with a fragrant vase of white hydrangeas in the center.
The pasta tables seats 12 and I had a very special group with me to enjoy the meal. Since my birthday is at the end of this month, we decided to use this dinner as an early celebration. My parents and sister flew up from Miami, FL for the occasion.
I was also joined by three of my awards show ladies (we have annual viewing parties for all the major shows).
Rounding out the crew were two of my best friends from college with their very handsome significant others.
Once we all took our seats my mother handed me a small gift bag and I said, "I have one present for tonight that you have to open right now." I peeled back the layers of tissue paper to reveal a tiara. It said across the front in glittering silver sparkles "Happy Birthday." You better believe I put that crown on and wore it all night!
As if the crown landing on my head signaled the official start of the festive meal, it was right then that our waiter appeared. He was actually the same waiter we had back in January for my brother-in-law's birthday dinner. He explained to everyone at the table the courses we would be having (five total) and the order they would arrive in. He also double checked about any food restrictions. Amongst us we had one vegetarian, one dairy-free person and one gluten-free person.
Each end of the table received a very generous basket of bread with a dish of olive oil. The bread was exactly the kind I love - hearty crust on the outside, doughy on the inside.
Course 1 - Sfizzi
The first course was sfizzi (small bites). We were treated to "carta di musica," Italian for "sheet music" which was a paper thin flat bread topped with pesto, pine nuts and parmesan cheese. Behind that was crostini topped with chicken live mousse. At the rear you'll see the warm semolina cakes topped with zucchini, parmesan cheese and shaved summer truffles (!!).
Of the starters, I liked the "sheet music" with pesto best. The pesto was so bright and fresh and bursting with basil flavor. It really helped me to feel like I am holding onto summer. I also loved the semolina cakes. It was good there were only enough for each person to have one, because I could have had three. I didn't taste the chicken liver mousse, but several people said, "I don't normally eat this kind of mousse, but this was incredible." Because I couldn't enjoy the chicken liver, they brought me a crostini topped with pepper caponata which was delicious.
Course 2 - Antipasti
Round two began with plates of prosciutto, next to buttered sourdough, nardello pepperonata and arugula.
Since I couldn't have the prosciutto, I was delivered a special plate of the pepperonata with crispy potatoes underneath.
We also indulged in burrata with radicchio, marinated beets and walnuts. I don't know anyone that doesn't love burrata. This cheese was creamy, rich and easy to spread on the delicious bread we had on the table. The cheese was an excellent compliment to the radicchio, beets and walnuts. The marinated beets almost tasted pickled, helping to mellow their typically earthy flavor.
The final dish for this round was a plate of Martha's Vineyard oysters with a rhubarb granita. I watched as each person at the table slurped down an oyster and then their eyes rolled into the back of their heads with pure elation. This was one of the biggest hits of the night, especially the rhubarb granita, which was so unexpected yet wonderfully refreshing.
Just before the plates were cleared from the second course I took a picture of all the nearly empty plates. My friend's husband said, "You can call that photo - the carnage."
Course 3 - Pasta
I was most looking forward to the third course, which would be pasta. After all, we were sitting at the pasta table! The first plate to arrive was the potato gnocchi with foraged mushrooms, beans and parmesan cheese, topped with shaved summer truffles.
Yes, this was every bit as decadent as it looks! The gnocchi really allowed the mushrooms, beans and truffles to be the stars. Those three flavors, plus the parmesan cheese, blended together seamlessly.
I was given a special vegetarian dish, which was cacio e pepe (my favorite!) with fresh summer corn. I was raving about this dish to the sommelier and he said, "We make a seasonal cacio e pepe all year round, changing up the mix ins based on what's fresh. If you ever want cacio e pepe and don't see it on the menu, just ask." Good to know!
I wasn't able to snap photos of the other two pastas (my guests were already digging in!) but we also had roasted zucchini ravioli with nardello peppers, tomatoes and ricotta salata, as well as pappardelle with wild boar, black trumpet, juniper and parmesan cheese. In addition to the oysters, the pappardelle was also one of the most celebrated dishes of the night.
Course 4 - Secondi
For the final savory course the first plate to arrive was the grilled swordfish with tomatoes, zucchini and almonds, topped with lemon wedges (for squeezing onto your own individual portion).
The chef also sent out quail, served over a bed of mushrooms and lentils. I have to say, I am a pretty meat-friendly vegetarian. I never care when anyone eats meat around me, prepares it in my kitchen, or even cooks my veggie burger on the same part of the grill as the meat burgers, but when that quail arrived with talons still on, I was pretty freaked out.
During the fish and meat course, I was given a special plate - fried squash blossoms stuffed with mozzarella cheese over a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers. I think I had the best dish of that course! I absolutely love stuffed squash blossoms. I get them anytime I see them on a menu.
At this point, we were all slowing down and trying to resist loosening our clothes. But we knew we had one more course to go (the best course), dessert!
Course 5 - Dolci
When it was time for dessert, our waiter walked over and slid a chocolate dessert (he could tell) with a candle right in front of me. A big thank you to my sister for capturing my candid, overjoyed reaction.
She managed to snap this rather hilarious shot of me making my birthday wish.
The candle-bearing dessert was a chocolate terrine with caramel sauce, topped with a ginger gelato, candied ginger and fresh strawberries. I loved the taste of the terrine, especially when swirled in the caramel, but I hate ginger, so for me, that flavor was too strong.
One of the favorites in the dessert round was the toasted olive oil cake with blackberries, warm currant broth and a honey-chamomile gelato. The gelato was such a rare, special flavor and they really figured out how to balance the tea flavor. The gelato disappeared very quickly off this dish at both ends of the table.
There was also a vanilla panna cotta topped with strawberries and blackberries. As you all know, I am really not into fruit dessert, but the panna cotta was delicious. It was the perfect, silky texture. Sometimes panna cotta can be too gelatinous, but this was just right.
My favorite dessert of all four was the almond torta with vanilla gelato. There was some kind of crumble hidden beneath the gelato that added a sweet and salty crunch to every bite.
When the dessert plates were cleared I heard two things from almost every guest. The first, "This was one of the best meals of my life," and the second, "How will you ever top this?" I think that means this was a smashing success!
For me, the pasta table was part new year's resolution and part birthday wish. To be able to experience it with my parents, my sister and some of my closest friends was really such an amazing gift. Almost as amazing as my tiara. Ha!
If you are interested in booking the pasta table for a special event, I want to share a couple of things I learned:
1) You can only make a reservation two months in advance. So if you want a December 1st date, for example, October 1st is the earliest you can request the date.
2) You can choose between a five course option or a seven course option. I dine out a lot and it was tough for me to keep up with five courses. The thought of seven? I actually can't even handle thinking about that.
3) You do have the choice to add wine pairings to the meal if you like. If you choose not to, you can order wine or cocktails a la carte.
4) Giulia is wonderfully accommodating about food restrictions and allergies. Every person with a restriction was given at least one, if not two, special dishes at each course to make up for any they wouldn't be able to enjoy from the family-style plates.
The staff at Giulia was so friendly and kind. Our server and the sommelier were wonderfully attentive. The meal was expertly paced. We never felt like anyone was rushing us or hovering.
I had been wanting to do the pasta table for so long and it superseded my expectations.