Monday, August 15, 2016

Shipping Out to Hingham’s Alma Nove a Worthwhile Dining Trip

Back in the summer of 2010, the Shipyard at Hingham bore more of a resemblance to a graveyard than a waterfront destination, particularly given its dearth of fine dining, which resided closer to the town center (Square CafĂ© and Tosca). All that the area needed was a large outdoor shopping mall and just the slightest touch of celebrity. Okay, make that a healthy dose of celebrity, by way of the Walhburg brothers, led by actors/part-owners Donnie and Mark and their chef/owner/restauranteur Paul Wahlburg. The modern Italian and Mediterranean restaurant became an overnight sensation and even spawned an offshoot of the upscale hamburger franchise, Wahlburgers (the original sits immediately next door). The restaurant’s Italian-influenced name is apt, an ode to the Wahlburg’s incredibly strong mother (alma) who raised nine (nove) children in Dorchester, Massachusetts. And better yet? The food and stylish atmosphere emit all of the love and joy that the Wahlburgers put into the establishment and want customers to enjoy themselves. There’s not an ounce of pretension to the place – it’s as if the Walhburgers are inviting you into their own home.

                Alma Nove’s ambience is stylish, starting with its interior consisting of large windows, mirrors, white tablecloths, and cathedral ceilings. A large, long bar stretches from the entryway to the patio. Lights hang from a wagon-wheel like structure across the ceiling. On a cool summer night, we elect the large outdoor patio that overlooks Hingham Harbor and features a giant gas fireplace all ablaze and fire pit. This al fresco setting is positively spectacular, featuring one of the finest views you’ll find in all of Massachusetts.

                What about the food, you ask? I had heard whispers from several close friends that Alma Nove was overrated or had simply lost its culinary way over the past couple of years. Let me be the first to quell those rumors. Wahlburg’s menu is enticing, particularly given its succinct, yet delectable description of ingredients (i.e. wood grilled octopus, fingerling potatoes, grapefruit aioli). Courses are split into antipasti (appetizers, $11-18), primi (pastas, $25-27 – although customers take note: smaller, more reasonably priced tasting portions are available at $10), and secondi (entrees, $27-37).

                For starters, potato-crusted calamari ($13) are lovely and smoky from being prepared on the wood grill, served with fresh, juicy pickled green tomatoes whose sweetness serves as a wonderful counterpoint to the saltiness of the tender fish’s coating. If only there were more than a drizzle of mustard aioli for dipping purposes that paled in comparison to the generous portion of squid. Also impressive were a trio of handmade cod cakes ($12.50), whose perfectly crispy exteriors gave way to a moist, fleshy, slightly sweet interior of heavenly fish, which was beautifully balanced with an accompanying base of smoky roasted corn and tomato relish that I would gladly bottle up and take home.

                When it comes to pastas, Wahlburg mostly adheres to traditional dishes but puts his own unique spin on them. Lobster ravioli ($27) comes stuffed with generous chunks of lobster (i.e. even claw) and are topped with a distinct lobster-corn relish and sweet corn cream sauce. While the sauce struck a nerve on my sweetness palate, the dish manages to be an overall success given its successful merger of saltiness and sweetness, all the while not being too heavy as most ravioli dishes are. Orechiette ($25) is less successful, as the enticing combination of flavors of pine nuts, slivered garlic, and Romano cheese just fester in blandness, with Italian sausage that lacked much heat. The winning dish of the evening was undoubtedly the pillowy, ethereal homemade gnocchi ($26) that would make Walhburg’s mother proud. The pasta is light, airy, topped with truffled Pecorino, and are paired with meaty, intensely flavorful wild mushrooms soaked in Madeira wine that themselves could be served as a standalone meal. It’s a knockout. A special of wood-grilled steak ($37) served over a Nebbiolo wine reduction and incredibly smooth mashed potatoes is also memorable.

                Surprisingly, well-regarded pastry chef Christie Radeos’s concoctions were mild disappointments, starting with the blueberry and vanilla swirl cheesecake ($9), which lacked any real traces of said flavors and only a dab of promised blueberry sauce, although dish’s secondary features including a candied lemon rind and cinnamon cookie crust were strong. Chocolate sour cream bundt cake ($10) promised a moist, decadent delight, only to prove to be a dry, dense dud whose house-made raspberry jam was more goopy than jam-like in texture.


                Cocktails were sweet and potent, starting with a spicy, Ginger beer-based Harvest Mule ($10) and an equally refreshing, spicy beverage consisting of watermelon-infused tequila and habanero syrup. A9 barrel-aged cocktails ($11-14, with all barrels seasoned one month in-house with madeira, while cocktails aged a minimum of six weeks) are impressive indeed, including a smooth, well-prepared Old Fashioned (Salerno blood orange liqueur’s sweetness nicely balances out the bourbon’s stiffness) and even vanilla bourbon. And one cannot go wrong with the extensive, Italian-influenced wine selection, featuring about a dozen reds and whites by the glass and dozens other by the bottle, including a reasonably-priced Trebbiano from Italy’s Abruzzo region ($55).


Service was adequate, if not commensurate with the restaurant’s glowing ambience. Our waitress was certainly knowledgeable, but her enthusiasm was lacking and never once broke into a smile (what, no Mark Wahlburg onsite to lieft one’s spirits up?). There were minor hiccups as well, including the time our first round of cocktails arrived after appetizers were placed onto the table, as did serving plates (which were surprisingly as small as the ones we used to dip our bread into oil).

Overall, however, Alma Nove admirably lives up to its lofty reputation as one of the South Shore’s best fine dining establishments. From its innovative, well-executed Italian and Mediterranean-inspired cuisine to its not-to-be-missed atmosphere, in the words of former rapper-turned superstar actor Marky Mark (aka Mark Wahlburg), there are nothing but good vibrations emanating from Hingham Shipyard.


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