It is a word with many meanings.
Primetime television (HELLO. Dance Moms!)
In your prime
Prime rib (always medium-rare)
Prime numbers (math is the freaking devil)
Clearly, the caliber of my writing and creativity is not in its prime.
Some friends and I visited Umbria Prime during Restaurant Week (if that gives you any indication of how pathetically behind I am in posting). I went last year for Restaurant Week and had such a great experience (atypical for RW) that I knew I wanted to go back this year to review it. Unlike most restaurants, Umbria Prime offers a wide selection of options from their normal menu, and they definitely don’t skip on portions. It’s a great deal, and if you go on Friday or Saturday, you get free admission to their nightclub (normally a $20 cover charge).
295 Franklin Street
Boston, MA 02115
Umbria is a lovely restaurant. It’s has the same look and feel of a restaurant in the North End (and is owned by DePasquale Ventures, which operates a series of acclaimed restaurants actually in the North End), but it’s located in the Financial District. It’s a nice departure, especially with all the little cocktail bars popping up in the area for the business crowd. (Umbria isn’t really a cocktail place, so it’d be nice to go out with coworkers for happy hour and have dinner here.)
The interior of Umbria combines rich mahogany tables with brick and stone walls. The back wall has an open kitchen and a real wood-burning oven (key for rich flavor).
The vibe is upscale casual, as evidenced by the chic chalkboard next to the kitchen – this is a place you can go for a romantic date night or a dinner out with friends. You can hold and hear a conversation, but if you get a little loud or rowdy it’s totally fine (because you won’t be the only ones).
The service is overall fantastic. Umbria has a drink menu, but when I questioned the bartender about which he would recommend, his response verbatim was “Whatever takes the least amount of effort.” Well ok then, JACK ASS, thanks for your help. I’ll have a martini, if mixing some vodka and olive juice isn’t too much effort for your precious self tending to the hoards of, oh, five patrons.
That being said, our waiter was excellent. We were originally seated in an alcove next to this darkened wine cellar. Upon being asked to move (faux pas – they asked us to move during dinner so they could retrieve wine) a glass of wine was knocked over. At the sight of this spectacle, our waiter promptly moved us to a new table, where he proceeded to bring us a half bottle of very good wine (on the house). He later brought us each a shot of lemoncello (on the house) to further express his apologies. So yeah, they messed up, but recovering gracefully from those situations is sometimes a better indicator of the quality of service than a meal without any noteworthy events.
The first two floors of Umbria Prime are the restaurant. The big surprise is on the third, fourth and fifth floors – a swanky club (like, CLUB) awaits those who want to drink like lushes, dance like maniacs to great Top 40s music, and mingle with other young twenty-somethings whose questionable apparel choices suggest how highly they think of themselves. If that’s your thing (I love combining my cardio workout with vodka tonics, personally), it’s an awesome place. The three levels are staggered so you can peer over railings at the floors below, or you can settle into one of the many cushy lounge areas and people watch.
The cover is $20, but if you eat dinner there on Friday or Saturday you get in for free. Eat dinner late so you can get your party on right afterward.
You’ll have to excuse the lack of photos. Thirty minutes into our time there I could barely pronounce anything that did not contain the words “vodka” and “tonic.” Taking pictures was not a priority.
Yeah…remind me to tell you about how we tried to pay off the bouncer to get my friend in through the back. It would have worked had there actually been a line for her to bypass.
I should probably be ashamed of myself. I’m so not.
So this is obviously what you’re here for – not my shenanigans.
The martini I ordered from the oh-so-lovely bartender was your classic, well-made martini. I thoroughly enjoyed the feta-stuffed olives.
For my first course, I ordered the house cured proscuitto and speck platter.
Deliciously salty, house-cured pork-liciousness was brought to the table and complemented with fresh shavings of sharp parmesan. Fresh fig jam was served in a phyllo cup, and beautifully contrasted with the deep meaty flavor of the meat and sharpness of the parmesan. Everyone at the table tried my appetizer and agreed it was the superior choice.
For my entrée, I took advantage of the Restaurant Week deal to order one the restaurant’s specialties: the 35-day dry aged, Certified Angus Prime Beef filet mignon, which would normally cost me about $36 (more than the entire RW menu, mind you).
The broccoli rabe and mashed potatoes on the side were enjoyable, but held no candle to the beauty of that piece of steak. I am generally kind of meh about steakhouses because I feel that, assuming they all use the same type of beef, there really isn’t much difference from one to another. However, this filet was unforgettable in its balance of seasonings and perfect execution. Impeccably medium rare, with a delicately salty crust on the outside contrasting with the soft, buttery, impossibly juicy meat on the inside, this is a filet worth the trip.
I should also note that when I went to Umbria in the past, I had their wild boar ragu with tagliatelle, and that was equally as memorable. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures, but more than a year later I remember the delightful chewiness of the sturdy noodles, tenderness of the boar meat, and depth of the tomato sauce. It is rare to find a place that serves such a memorable dish on each occasion.
For dessert, KnightlyBoyfriend and I split the cannolis and a tiramisu.
Both were enjoyable, if only average after an otherwise stellar meal.
This is not a reflection of Umbria’s typical pricing, because it was restaurant week. The bill for both Ryan and me was a little over $100, and that included:
- Two restaurant week meals (three courses)
- A martini
- A Peroni
- 2/5 bottle of wine
- 2/5 half bottle of wine (on the house)
- Lemoncello shots (on the house)
Summary of this Knight at the Restaurant
- I’ve never been to Umbria Prime outside of Restaurant Week because it’s a bit pricey, but their RW menu is fabulous. You’ll get full portions of their best dishes for half the price, and they are executed to perfection. This is Restaurant Week done right.
- I highly suggest going to Umbria Prime on a Friday or Saturday so that you can enjoy their really great night club (one of my favorites in Boston) free of charge. Hey, if you’re going to pay a premium for the meal, you might as well get a whole night out of it.
- If you want to try Umbria but you’re on a tight budget, split some appetizers or opt for one of their delicious and filling pasta dishes.
- If you want to splurge, do yourself a favor and get a steak. There really isn’t much more to say than that.
FINAL RATING: 4.5/5.0
Question: Have you been to Umbria Prime? What was your experience?
It’s story time.
Once upon a time, KnightlyBoyfriend and I moved to Back Bay, where we were forced to walk by this bar that looked so snooty, swanky and trendy that I knew we had to go there, whether to revel in the pomp and circumstance or to rip it to shreds on my blog. But then things started happening that made me believe we would most definitely be doing the former…
For starters, there’s a line around the damn block starting at around 9pm on Wednesdays through Saturdays.
Then, every publication in Boston wrote great reviews, like this one, comparing it to cocktail institutions like Drink and Clio.
To top it off, Yelpers had glowing things to say about it (and if the grumpy Yelpers can come to a consensus around an establishment, you can usually bet it’ll be ok).
With all the hype, this outing was to be the big event of the new year. We gathered our friends together and carefully selected a weekend in early January that worked for everyone’s schedules. No one was to be excluded from the shindig. We bundled up, bowed our heads against that balmy January weather, and walked the two blocks to Storyville…and boy, did it leave us with a story to tell.
90 Exeter Street
Boston, MA 02116
When our group of 10 arrived at 9:15 on Friday night, the large and solemn bouncer was already setting up the ropes. We breezed right by and went downstairs.
The inside of Storyville draws its inspiration from the speakeasies of old New Orleans – literally. The iconic fleur de lis is everywhere, and the interior is splashed with sexy black and red details that automatically make you feel a little too big for your britches.
Storyville is divided into two spaces: one is the lounge area, where diners or cocktail enthusiasts can settle into large leather seats and gather round sleek coffee tables (a little tough to eat on, but I really like the communal vibe it adds to the experience). The walls are lined with fabric (velvet, if I remember correctly). If you’ve seen Get Him to the Greek, I’m sure you can imagine the barrage of “fuzzy wall” jokes that arose.
The other side of Storyville is the dance club. You can reserve VIP tables, but it becomes instantly clear that the agenda of club-goers consists of shaking booty or getting booty.
Once inside, we checked our coats ($1, by the way, a great deal) and were promptly seated in…here?
I realize it was only 9:30 at this point, but the prospect of an early crowd is why we chose to eat dinner here. I couldn’t really understand why the bouncer was already setting up the ropes. But hey, nothing wrong with a person who likes to be prepared. Maybe he was a rather large and intimidating boy scout. Who knows.
Although a livelier atmosphere at this point would have been enjoyable, we conceded that it was still early, and that the reason we made dinner reservations was to beat the crowd, so it was really no big deal. We just wanted cocktails. Lots of cocktails.
As the night wore on, both the lounge and the club filled out with people. Although you definitely had your classic Boston-club-douchy types, we all agreed that the crowd actually had a nice mix of freaks (like the girl who I nearly killed with a dirty look after she hit on KnightlyBoyfriend) and young professionals just looking to sip on cocktails and dance a little. It was a great crowd.
Given Storyville’s reputation for stellar cocktails, I felt that they deserved their own section in this post. I’m also dismayed to report that the crowd and decor is where my free-flowing praise comes to a screeching halt.
Storyville has all the drinks that trendy/pre-prohibition cocktail menus advertise nowadays. Classic cocktails, house cocktails, drinks with little-known liquors, drinks shaken with egg whites, house-infused alcohol, etc. The first drink I ordered was the Day at the Races, a combination of gin, falernum (a spicy, tropical syrup), lemon, pomegranate and champagne. It looked crisp and fruity without being too sweet, which seemed like a nice way to start the evening.
Y’all – not good. It was so loaded with sugary liquors that all I could taste with each sip was cough syrup. I’ll admit there was a nice underlying spice, but I couldn’t enjoy it through all the saccharine. I downed the drink as quickly as possible so I could order another – I assumed I had just made a poor choice.
The next drink was the Pineapple Fizz, a mix of pineapple-infused tequila, sage, and shaken egg whites.
(Sorry for the crappy picture – I’m still trying to work out my camera issues.)
This drink was decent if we’re just talking flavor, although I tasted nothing of sage. My issue with the drink is that I really enjoy the flavor of alcohol. I think other liquors and ingredients can certainly play with that base flavor and enhance it, but I still prefer to taste my alcohol. This drink, while enjoyable, just tasted like pineapple juice. The egg whites were clearly thrown in as an afterthought, to buy into the current trends and the pretense of Storyville’s cocktail menu.
Let’s put it this way: I had five drinks throughout the course of the evening. That would normally be enough to, oh I don’t know, kill me, but I left with a slight buzz. I feel like that means they water down their cocktails.
Let’s not even talk about the Surfers on Acid I ordered which were not delivered as shots, but as full-size drinks that tasted like grape Robitussin. Not appetizing. I actually sent them back (with many, MANY apologies because I HATE doing that).
Two drinks from the evening stand out. I finally got a clue and switched to my signature dirty martini:
It was good. There are only so ways to mix a dirty martini, but it was ice cold and the flavors were nicely balanced. Just what I wanted.
The other drinks that stood out were the Smashes. If my drink review was based entirely on a sip of the smashes, I would have raved. Rather, I’m only mentioning them as the stand-outs of the evening – light and crisp in a way that highlighted the alcohol (I tasted a gin smash and a whiskey smash, and both were excellent, although I’d probably recommend the gin because it was a little cleaner) and tickled the tongue.
Storyville’s food is based on “sharable plates,” which coincides with the theme of gathering friends around the coffee table. The average size of an entree is about the size of an appetizer in most places, but the prices reflect the smaller sizes.
I started with chick pea fries, which received resounding support on Yelp. I expected thick blocks of pureed chick peas, audibly crispy on the outside and impossibly creamy and flavorful on the inside. I expected something like the chick pea fries at Sibling Rivalry. What I received instead, were these:
Lukewarm, soggy, and unable to hold a shape, the chick pea fries were essentially a pile of hummus with a halfhearted dusting of greasy crust. The only positive response these elicited was the desire to return to Sibling Rivalry (despite our equally disappointing experience there) just to order five platters of their chick pea fries. Truthfully, it was a little heartbreaking.
I followed up the chick pea fries with Lobster a L’Americane atop hand-cut tagliatelle.
Y’all, it was so bad I didn’t finish it. Me. I didn’t finish a pasta dish.
I will commend the pasta, which was thick and beautifully prepared. However the sauce only had about three lobster chunks in it, and absolutely no flavor. In fact, there was an underlying tang to it that I can’t quite place, but it was a little off-putting. I gave the rest to KnightlyBoyfriend, who shrugged and finished it up.
Speaking of KnightlyBoyfriend, he ordered the beef wellington. If you ever eat at Storyville, this is the dish to order. It was beautifully prepared, with a nice, flaky puff pastry crust and a juicy, ruby red interior.
The beef wellington is arguably the largest entree on the menu, and for just $15 it’s the best value. It costs more than that to make it at home. My only nit is that I generally like my wellington packets stuffed with copious amounts of mushroom duxelles and pate, but this was still nicely done.
I should note that during our meal, a young woman approached us and informed us that they were promoting the new Underworld movie. She said that if we took some pictures with promotional items, we could take t-shirts, posters of Kate Beckinsale, or Underworld DVDs home with us. We promptly lost all male attention at the table.
The boys walked around in these stupid shirts for the rest of the night. And then KnightlyBoyfriend brought home a poster of Kate Beckinsale and put it on our mantle.
I am not responsible for the loss of that tacky poster. I am NOT.
Too much? The total for dinner was $57, which included:
- Day at the Races ($12)
- Pineapple Fizz ($12)
- Chick Pea Fries ($8)
- Lobster Tagliatelle ($17)
After dinner I spent another $30 on two martinis and a Surfer on Acid. Shameful, I know. Note that all of this was within a 6-hour period.
Not worth the money.
Summary of this Knight at the Restaurant
- The club part of Storyville is actually pretty fun. It has a nice vibe, the music was great, and the crowd was a bunch of other groups just like ours. We’d definitely go back for that.
- The drinks are expensive, weak, and mostly way too sugary. You’ll do best to stick with the smashes, martinis or mixes that you know contain a large amount of alcohol.
- No one was really excited about their food, and not a single one of us ate anything worth returning for.
- Food sizes are small – everyone ordered an appetizer and an entree to ensure that there was enough food. The Wellington is the best bang for your buck, and the best-tasting dish of our evening. The small size of the dishes wouldn’t be a big deal if they were delicious, but they weren’t, so they felt overpriced.
- Would we return? For the club, yes (and only after pre-gaming at home). For the food or cocktails? No. Keep in mind also that the value of what we consumed (was it worth the money?) and the reputation of Storyville as the latest hot spot for libations and excellent food comes into effect here.
FINAL RATING: 2.5/5.0
SENT TO THE STOCKS
Question: What’s your story from Storyville?