By: Jessica Cickay
Some of my friends may say that I’m a creature of habit—and by some, I mean most, and by most I clearly mean all. Either way, last night I surely shed my predictability and shocked them with my impromptu trip to Southern Italy after work—and by Italy, I mean Needham, and by Needham, I mean the all new Spiga Trattoria Italiana. With a well-seasoned chef, a fresh menu and an inspired décor, the new Spiga with its old name treated my taste buds and me to a fabulous evening of food and drink.
Apparently blogs are the new black nowadays, and Chris Lyons of Lyons PR got that email. Instead of relying on the traditional restaurant reporter to critique her clients, Chris celebrated the art of the blog with a lovely tasting dinner—bloggers only—to spread the word about the restaurant’s revamp. Executive chef Marisa Iocco entered Spiga in April 2009 and since then, the warm glow she naturally brought with her has only seemed to burn brighter. This “name brand chef” is responsible for the critically acclaimed menus of Mare, Umbria and Bricco, and now she’s the proud Italian mother of this latest venue. Her demeanor was humble, her look a bit funky and her food was, well…
We began the evening with a toast, our glasses filled with a crisp pinot grigio, and some homemade foccacia and cannellini bean “hummus.” In retrospect, the delicate bread and smooth, garlicky bean paste were omens of good things to come.The table decided to order antipasti, primi and secondi family style and I can’t lie—I was a little scared. I have this problem come 6pm where I become hangry—or the perfect combination of hungry and angry—and I cry like a three year old if I don’t get what I want to eat or enough of it. However, in a way I never could have predicted, Chef Iocco’s creations and their layers of flavor and genius ingredient combinations, quelled even my body’s most torrid attempts at becoming hangry. Her insalata of octopus was a mix of tender baby octopus atop a bed of shaved celery and potato sticks, all drizzled with the faintest reminder of a lemony olive oil.
An array of sea scallops came next, accompanied by sweet red and yellow peppers that truly lived up to their sugary name, and then a plate of buttery shrimp, which leaned against a creamy mountain of avocado and farro. Somehow, the coating-less shrimp maintained an all-natural crunch, and they were piqued with a tart hint of citrus.
Chef Iocco and her endearing family of wait staff then brought us free-form scallop lasagna and hand-made pappardelle Bolognese. Persnickety eater that I am, the Bolognese aspect of the Bolognese didn’t tempt me, but I made a dent in the delicate broth-bathed layers of crepe that formed the cheese-less lasagna. The flavor was light and oceanic, with its minimal flavor still somehow allowing for maximum satisfaction.
In this blogger’s opinion, seafood swam into the spotlight at Spiga. The black and white sesame seeds encrusting the flaky filet of trout were countered with a colorful kiwi and striped beet salad. It was crunchy—yet tender—and it was sweet—yet aromatic—but somehow the flavors didn’t fight.
To accompany our main dishes, Chris requested Chef Iocco bring out her inventive tray of parmigiano Oreo cookies, or thin tuile’s of melted parmigiano cheese bookending a pillowy cloud of rich mashed potatoes.
Thick cuts of sockeye salmon arrived from the kitchen perfectly seasoned with a one-two punch of fresh herbs. Chef Iocco shredded zucchini and red onions into shoestrings and kissed the spongy “noodles” with a roasted garlic ragu. I pretty much hoarded the plate of salmon—my bad—because I just couldn’t get enough of the veggie pasta that cradled the coral fish.
Although our table of bloggers requested that we eat dessert first (my type of eaters!), we followed directions and saved the sweets for last. The chef’s streamlined trio of chocolate delights was comprised of a gentle and rich cocoa gelato resting on a platform of silken chocolate flan and a dense, hazelnut cake dipped in a bittersweet chocolate cloak.
The final scoop of my spoon was into Chef Iocco’s signature vanilla bread pudding. A simple dessert with complex flavors, this baked beauty was soft on the inside and toasty on the outside, compliments of removing the brioche’s crusts. A drizzle of vanilla caramel and garnish of minted strawberries topped off both the bread pudding and my belly’s ability to indulge any further.
Today’s Spiga is definitely off the beaten path in Needham, but with a menu as varied and interesting as Chef Iocco’s, choosing the road less traveled is the tastiest decision you’ll ever make.
Spiga Trattoria Italiana
18 Highland Cir
Needham, MA 02494