Change is in the air at A Tavola in Winchester, close to Somerville and there’s good reason to believe those changes will be positive, exciting and delicious.
Back in November 2011, Chef Vittorio Ettore, the owner of Bistro 5 in Medford, opened a second restaurant, A Tavola. Initially, it was an excellent restaurant, becoming one of my new favorites, offering compelling Italian cuisine. However, over time, and with a number of different chefs working at the restaurant, I, and others, felt that the quality of the cuisine had slipped and I stopped dining there. Throughout all this time, Bistro 5 has remained one of my top favorites, being consistently excellent.
This past fall, Chef Joe Carli became the new Chef de Cuisine at A Tavola and then earlier this month, Chef Carli became the new owner of the restaurant. Chef Carli has just started to put his own stamp on the kitchen, and after two recent visits, I’m confident the restaurant is in great hands and I’ll likely become a regular once again.
I’ve known Chef Carli for a number of years, and he has worked at a few of my favorite restaurants, listed in my Top 50 Restaurants of 2019, including Osteria Posto, Posto, and Bistro 5. From July 2010 to October 2013, Chef Carli worked for Vittorio Ettore at Bistro 5, so it’s understandable why Chef Ettore chose to sell A Tavola to Chef Carli. After leaving Bistro 5, Chef Carli worked at Posto, in Somerville, and most recently, he worked at Osteria Posto in Waltham. His dream has to been to own his own restaurant, and that dream has now become a reality. He now has an outlet for his culinary passion, and I believe we can expect some exciting things from him.
The physical restaurant hasn’t really changed, and it is still a medium sized restaurant with an intimate feel, including 6 seats at a small bar looking into the open kitchen. Those are some of the best seats in the restaurant as you can watch Chef Carli and his staff preparing your dinner. I’ve always been a fan of open kitchens, enjoying the sight of the chef and his assistants preparing various dishes. I’d strongly recommend making reservations, especially on the weekend, and even during the week if you want one of the bar seats.
On their Drinks menu, you can start your meal with an Apertivo ($11-$14), such as an Aperol Spritz, Campari & Orange, or an Italian bubbly. They also stock about 9 Beers ($6-$12), two on draft, and including some local brews and a Cider. Their Wine list includes all Italian wines, with 12 wines by the glass, 6 whites and 6 reds, available in 6 ounces ($11-$14) or 9 ounces ($15-$18). There are about 31 wines by the bottle, priced $43-$149 with about half under $60. It’s an interesting list, that doesn’t contain the usual suspects, and offers plenty of good choices, from many different regions of Italy. Wine lovers should find plenty to intrigue their palate. It’s also interesting that they serve their wine in stemless glassware.
One evening, I had a couple different glasses of wine, including the 2016 Pietra Pinta Nero Buono, made from an indigenous Italian grape. Delicious black fruit with spicy notes, good acidity, and smooth tannins. An excellent companion for many of the restaurant’s various dishes. Highly recommended. The 2015 Duca di Salaparuta Lavico Nerelo Mascalese is a more tannic and serious of a wine, with black cherry, ripe plum flavors and dark spices. It works best with heartier meat dishes.
On another visit, we enjoyed a bottle of the 2014 Lorenzo Mattoni Montefalco Sagrantino ($76), which only has a 13.5% ABV, refreshing for a red wine. Tasty flavors of cherry, blackberry, and plum with subtle spices notes, well-integrated tannins, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. Another wine which would pair very well with many dishes at the restaurant. It was very easy to finish off this bottle, and enjoy throughout the course of our dinner.
For food options, there is a Regular Menu and a chalkboard of Specials. On the Regular Menu, you’ll find Antipasti ($4-$22), such as Funghi (mushrooms and egg), Formaggio (cheese), Antipasti Plate (meats, dips, veggies), Insalata, Zuppa (Tomato soup), and Poplo (crispy seared octopus). The Secondi ($22-$32) includes items like Bigoli (thick spaghetti, prosciutto, oyster mushrooms, cipolline), Tagliatelle (Bolognese, parmigiano, basil), Manzo (braised short rib), and Pesce (chef’s choice fish). All of their pasta dishes are also available as in appetizer size, making it easier to sample several dishes. And on every Wednesday, they offer two Flatbreads, including a Margherita ($12) and Chef’s Special ($15). On the Specials board, you’ll usually find about another ten items, including Antipasti, Secondi, and Desserts.
As A Tavola is a farm to table restaurant, the availability of a number of ingredients will vary, dependent on what is available at local farms and markets. Sometimes, the chef will get fortunate and be offered a whole heritage pig, duck or rabbit. Then, he uses his creativity to produce special dishes for the day, and the dishes may be of limited availability. If you follow A Tavola on Facebook, you can see what new dishes are being offered each day.
In addition, they offer a Take-Out Menu, including items such as Antipasto, Insalata, Zuppa, Pasta Dishes (including a few not on the usual menu), and Grilled Flatbreads (Wednesday only). On the evening I sat at the bar in front of the kitchen, I saw a fair amount of take-out dishes prepared. There is also a Take-Out Catering menu, offering large trays for 8-10 people.
While dining there, and after ordering your dinner, you’ll receive complimentary, warm bread and oil. The bread has a nice, crusty exterior with a softer interior bread, and also would be good for dipping in the sauces of some of their dishes.