On the surface, Grezzo appears warm and intimate, similar to its North End brethren. Walls are painted deep tomato-sauce red and the dim flicker of candles is as delicate as finely grated Parmesan. Yet oversized portraits of vegetables, instead of landscapes of the Tuscan countryside, might be your first clue something is different about this place.
In a neighborhood where sauces simmer all day and meatballs are a source of pride, Grezzo (which has neither heated sauce nor meat) arrives as Boston’s first raw-food restaurant. Food on the raw diet can’t be heated above 112 degrees. This keeps its active enzymes preserved—meaning it can basically break itself down in your body.
Think raw food, and a kaleidoscope of bunny rabbits, new-age gurus or barefoot hippies may run through your mind. Translating that to a dining experience, you’d expect an overpriced, glamorized crudite platter with delicately julienned carrots and celery with a dollop of sauce on a big white plate. Wrong. Chef/owner Alissa Cohen manages to melt raw-food principles into an Italian menu with lots of culinary flair, but none of the heated kind.
Order the chef’s tasting menu ($59); otherwise you might spend more time imagining the food from the menu descriptions than actually enjoying it. The sampling menu gets you everything except the appetizers, which you may as well order anyway, since the whole course is affordable. The ravioli ($11) are a refreshing starter, the pink of the beet blushing through the thin light skin of the pasta. The beet’s sweetness is complemented with fig and balanced by the subtle kick of curry in the cream sauce. In contrast, the quinoa tabouleh ($9) is perfectly chewy, softened by the process of sprouting. The mini-grain lends itself well to the grapes, pickled but still sweet, and together they mellow out the peppery arugula.
Of the three entrees, the gnocchi ($21) is most impressive. Using cashews, Cohen creates tiny dumplings less dense then their traditional potato counterparts. The nut-based nuggets are buoys in a creamy sauce that dissolve on the tongue, while crisp English peas give the teeth something to chomp on. Tasting the Land and Sea lasagna ($23) reminds me of sushi. The earthy mushroom flavors are washed out by the fishy taste of the sea vegetables, but the “ricotta” is as silky as a fine piece of sashimi. Feast away knowing the raw dishes are pretty much digesting themselves for you, but don’t max out before dessert. The chocolate fudge cake ($11) is as rich and gooey as a half-melted Hostess cupcake.
Muddled with the freshest of herbs, the virgin cocktails are worth a sip, most featuring kombucha, a type of fermented sweet tea. Though beer and liquor aren’t raw, wine certainly is and Grezzo serves a house red and white. One would think booze would counteract the healthy benefits of the raw-food diet, but if you’re staying within the Italian theme, wine is necessary. Besides, people are more open to unusual foods when a bit tipsy.
Service is gentle and informative with a crew prepared to field questions and puzzled expressions (which they do cheerfully). In fact, they almost have a glow to them, which either has to do with eating what they serve or just running around like crazy at a new restaurant.
You won’t find baking lasagna, boiling pots of pasta or simmering sauces at Grezzo. However, the one-of-a-kind restaurant blends into the North End dining scene as smoothly as one can imagine shaved truffles and chervil atop a bowl of vanilla parsnip and green apple soup.