The Dorchester neighborhood of Boston is a sprawling section of the city, extending from just outside the downtown area all the way down to Milton and Quincy, several miles to the south. And scattered about are countless restaurants that range from tiny Caribbean cheap eats spots to chic New American places. There is very little in the way of Italian restaurants here, however, with one of the only options in the neighborhood being a hidden place in the Peabody Square/Ashmont Hill area called Tavolo Ristorante, which also happens to be owned by Chris Douglass who runs the nearby Ashmont Grill and had also owned the highly-regarded (and long-closed) Icarus in Boston's South End. And while Tavolo and Ashmont Grill are both slightly upscale neighborhood spots, that's where the similarities end, as you'd be hard-pressed to know that they are connected in any way.
Located on the ground floor of the massive Carruth building (which is mainly a residential development), Tavolo is quite easy to miss, as the structure doesn't exactly look like a place that would house a restaurant. But Tavolo is indeed located within the building, and is quite spacious, with a funky-looking bar and lounge to the right, a quiet dining room to the left, a second dining area toward the back, and a few more tables scattered about in the area where the rooms meet. The space is an eclectic mix of cozy, chic, and old-school all wrapped up into one, with colorful hanging lights, a high ceiling, interesting posters, murals, and prints on the walls, and music that includes a mix of rock, lounge music, and more. The overall feel is that of a fun and relaxed local hangout that attracts a very diverse crowd, including families, retirees, young couples, businesspeople, and groups of friends.
Tavolo started out as a casual pizza place, but has since evolved into something much more than that; now diners can choose from a menu that has pizza, pasta, panini, and meat and seafood dishes, with a focus on locally-sourced and seasonal ingredients (much like the Ashmont Grill). Many of the items here are freshly made, with breads, cheeses, pork products, and pasta being created from scratch. A few dishes that you may find on Tavolo's always-changing menu includes a creamy cauliflower soup that has pureed cauliflower (which is a great way to get the delicious taste of the vegetable without the texture issues that tend to bother some); a bowl of both pitted and non-pitted olives; some of the best meatballs you'll find in Boston, with the red sauce being the icing on the cake; a spreadables plate that comes with whipped ricotta, Tuscan beans, and mild-tasting roasted garlic (with the cloves in the bulb) along with grilled toast: garlic bread that is heavy on the garlic but not so much as to overwhelm the bread; a spicy orecchiette fra diavolo with house-made sausage and kale; a near-perfect chitarra carbonara with crispy bits of pancetta or guanciale and pasta that is cut using a guitar-like tool; a hearty bolognese with plenty of meat sauce and whipped ricotta coating the freshly-made tagliatelle; a zingy chicken picatta with capers, broccoli rabe, fresh parmesan, and potatoes; a chicken parm dish with the chicken piled high over spinach and pasta, with the chicken having a nice texture from the crunchy breading; and crispy pizza with a nice char on the bottom of the crust and an array of topping options such as pears, mushrooms, meatballs, sausage, basil, and red pepper puree. Desserts tend to change each day, with a very rich tiramisu and a gelato being a couple of options. Beer and wine are available at Tavolo, as well as a variety of both classic and inventive cocktails such as an aperol spritzer (and a newer drink offered called a Beale St. Spritz), a white clementine cosmo, a ginger sidecar, a pear martini, and a gimlet with grapefruit-infused vodka. By the way, Tavolo does something on Wednesday nights that lovers of Italian fare might want to check out--it is called the Wednesday Pasta Tour, which features three-course meals focusing on foods from specific regions of Italy.
While not exactly your typical neighborhood red sauce joint--and not quite an upscale Northern Italian bistro--Tavolo is a friendly, comfortable place with interesting twists on traditional dishes from Italy, with prices that won't break the bank. Chris Douglass continues to impress with his restaurants, with the Ashmont Grill and this nearby eatery (which is basically across the street) certainly worth checking out.
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