Amalfi Coast Cuisine Without the Passport
Photographed by Jazz Martin
Vacationing in Italy is a special time for most people, but the food hangover you experience when you return home is no joke. To help ease the pain, I figured I’d give my friends a literal taste of my trip by inviting them to dinner at Assaggio—the North End hallmark for authentic Positano cuisine.
As you enter, the romantic intimacy of the restaurant makes you feel as though you just stepped off a side street in Italy. The simple white tablecloths, open windows and dim lighting invite you to stay as long as you’d like—and that we do.
Our waiter, Michele, is warm and welcoming as he makes everything on the menu sound delectable. As I begin telling my tale of landing in Rome we order appetizers. We start with shrimp cocktail, zucchini flowers, shrimp scampi, burrata and meatballs with homemade ricotta. The shrimp cocktail and shrimp scampi come adorned with the largest shrimp I have ever seen, which have the perfect amount of firmness. The burrata and meatballs are beautifully displayed and melt in my mouth. The zucchini flowers are a staple in Positano and I am glad to report that they taste just as incredible here in Boston.
Given that this isn’t Frank DePasquale’s first rodeo, it should come as no surprise that this establishment has just opened and it’s already full of people. Having all the tables around us full of people eating and laughing makes us feel proud that we’re in on the secret hidden right off of Hanover Street. Every now and then people on the street stop walking and glance in to see what all the commotion is about and we just raise our glasses and smile.
For our next course we dive deep into the heart of the reason for traveling to Italy in the first place: pasta. I’m halfway through a list of the best places I ate pasta when our plates arrive. The gnocchi alla sorrentina is so delicate and soft that I’m amazed it doesn’t fall apart under the weight of the red sauce. The puttanesca has a great balance of tangy and savory that is great for anyone looking for a spin on the traditional approach to pasta. To take it one step further, the zucchini pasta rounds out the course with a creamy parmigiano and provolone del monaco sauce. Each bite drums up memories of popping into seemingly every restaurant from Venice to Naples to get my fix.
The main courses represent the unexpected detours I took along the way. The buttery and rich filet mignon, an unexpected sight to see, tells the story of when I got lost along the Amalfi coast only to stumble upon a hidden alley that led to the perfect view of the sunset. The zuppa di pesce—a spectacular display of clams, mussels, calamari and lobster—follows my stop in Camogli and being pleasantly surprised by the charming fishing village nestled within. And the grill marks and smoky flavors of the brick chicken brings me back to strolling the open air markets where freshly-cooked food is displayed in abundance.
By this point, the hum of the dinner crowd is slowing down and the sheer volume of the food we just consumed is starting to hit us. Our waiter brings us a huge selection of fresh fruit to cleanse our palate, and it includes everything from watermelon and kiwi to apricots and figs. We close out the night by sharing the tiramisu, which rivals the nutty flavor and creaminess of the kind I found in Milan.
Though we truly feel like we’re at home at Assaggio, we finally gather our stuff to leave. On the streets, before hugging goodbye, we promise to plan a group trip to Italy. Already reminiscing on our dinner, I mention starting with another meal at Assaggio, to which everyone nods their heads enthusiastically.