By Bernie Whitmore
281 Main Street, Worcester,
Driving down Main Street, it would be easy to cruise right past Ritual, oblivious to what you’ve missed. Both the restaurant’s exterior and sign provide only scant indication of what’s contained within. But take a step inside and you’ll find yourself in another world ~ a world that defies categorization and only reluctantly yields to description. Think Gates of Kiev meets Eastern Mysticism cloaked in scarlet, all dramatically illuminated and accompanied by mostly subdued soundtrack of pleasing ethnic genres.
Ritual’s cuisine, described as Mediterranean Fusion, is peppered with surprises. For example, their bacon appetizer is dipped in chocolate and crusted with pistachio nuts. Octapothi are grilled octopus marinated in olive oil, lemon zest and garlic. The more exotic offerings are found in the extensive warm and cold appetizer lists; on my first visit we didn’t even stray into the entrees and felt we’d had a very satisfying meal.
But this time, my friend and I started with a salad ~ Ritual’s Napoleon Beet ~ a tower of steamed beet slices, chilled and layered with chevre, goat cheese infused with bits of green herbs. The beets ~ red, yellow and Chioggia ~ glistened with such a delicate flavor it made me wonder why this vegetable cannot seem to break free of its lowly reputation.
From the understated Beet Napoleon, we moved to the hearty flavor of Saganaki, an appetizer of kefalotere cheese fried and deglazed with ouzo. Consider kefalotere the Greek cousin of Italy’s parmesan cheese, perhaps a bit saltier and every bit as rich. The ouzo provided a tinge of sweetness and was served with grilled triangles of pita bread. This dish is the flagship of a range of Greek appetizers ~ some traditional, others innovative. Plan on trying a new one each time you visit Ritual.
But there is also a list of entrees, pizzas and Greek dishes from which to choose. My friend continued with Ritual’s Seafood Risotto, a bowl of creamy Arborio rice drenched in seafood richness and topped with large chunks of lobster claw meat, jumbo scallops and juicy shrimp. Most kitchens don’t want to risk failing with risotto; Ritual’s kitchen excelled.
On the rare occasion I find myself in a Greek restaurant, I usually order a traditional entrée. In this case I went with Mousaka, perhaps the most basic. This dish starts with layers of eggplant stuffed with ground beef and topped with béchamel sauce. I’ve had several versions in my culinary travels, but I’ve never encountered such eggy bechemal sauce ~ thick, rich and tinged brown from the oven. Wonderful! The meat was seasoned perfectly and was served with shredded carrots and broccoli, sautéed just ‘til soft.
Ritual’s dessert list has more surprises. Perhaps the most fascinating is their White Chocolate Bread Pudding ~ and if you go to Ritual for no other reason than to luxuriate in this dessert, it will be worth the trip! Imagine flaky buttery croissants soaked in rich custard and baked until golden brown, oozing with molten white chocolate. Then Ritual teams it with creamy rich almond gelato and mango sorbet. Customers will be begging for this recipe.
Ritual is new, but it is already leaving its mark on our culinary Acropolis. If I could, I would make this restaurant a daily ritual.