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By Bernie Whitmore
Water cooler conversation in my office spans the typical range ~ corporate politics, last night’s TV, and everything in between. But just mention the great meal you had last weekend and the topic flips to dining. Everyone loves to tell stories of the nightmare waiter, an excellent martini, or the latest opening. It’s a great way to keep up with the restaurant scene. Lately I’ve been so impressed with the raves for Lazio that a quick drive to Northborough seemed in order.
Finding Lazio was a snap ~ through town, past that Victorian wedding cake house with the statue-lined driveway and there it is, up ahead, nestled in a strip-mall. Any prejudice against strip malls that I may have had vanished when we entered the restaurant; although the building itself is brand-new, they’ve used the palette of Tuscan colors and rustic lighting to drench the spacious dining room with rich warmth. Tables were spread with white linen and set with Italian-modern hardware.
Lazio builds a sophisticated ambiance layer by layer. The lounge is Euro-modern, separated from the dining room by a curvy partition. The kitchen looks out over all. At eye-level the décor is rustic, but take a look up and there’s the structural steel of a modern building. Open the menu and there’s no denying it, the cuisine is traditional Italian.
We sat down at a table kitted with a basket of sliced bread and half-bulb of roasted garlic sitting in a pool of herbed olive oil, just waiting for spreading and dipping. But before that fun could begin, Jessica, our server, needed some decisions from us. I chose the featured wine, Taltarni Sauvignon Blanc, and my guest requested a Tanqueray and tonic.
Though the menu lists appetizer favorites such as Mussels fra Diavlo (their spelling) and Gnocchi Quattro Formaggi, my dining companion and I decided to share Antipasto, a plate load of Lazio’s house salad greens smothered in flaky tuna fish and wreathed with rings of crunchy red onion and cucumber slices. Rolls of Italian meats and cheese kept showing up the further we advanced through the antipasto, which came with cups of balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Lazio antipasto was far more interesting than many I’ve ordered recently ~ and became even tastier when Jessica came by offering grated cheese. We nodded yes and she unleashed a blizzard of sharp Romano.
Entrées come with choice of soup or salad; we chose a cup of Tuscan vegetable soup, a hearty broth thick with minced carrots, celery, and perhaps a trace of fennel. The pear and citrus flavors of my wine were a contrast to savor.
The stream of flavors flowed even deeper with my entrée, Roast Porchetta. Pork shoulder rolled in spices had been slow-roasted to develop maximum depth of flavor. Five slices were served slathered with rosemary sauce; it was more than I could finish. Lazio offers four different starches with their entrees and I couldn’t resist their potato lasagna ~ a massive construction of thin-sliced potatoes layered with butter, mild spices and cheesy topping. Asparagus Romano was emerald-green with just a slight crunch.
My companion described his Veal Parmesan as “Two huge cutlets, tender, and served with a good portion of pasta.” He raved about the perfectly cooked pasta ~ al dente ~ and the marinara.
After clearing our plates and packing the leftovers, Jessica returned with the dessert tray. Everything on it was severely tempting…chocolate bombe, vanilla bean crème brûlée, and exceptionally rich-looking cannolis. In the end we chose Italian cheese cake, a full mini-cake covered with tart strawberries, blueberries and raspberries and crazy-swirled with raspberry syrup.
Though Lazio has been open for just a few months, our dining experience was exceptional in service, cuisine and setting. Now I have to return to satisfy my pasta cravings.
Lazio Italian Grille & Bar
318 Main Street, Northborough