La Morra: Flavors of Tuscany, from a Wood-Fired Grill
Brookline Village spot delivers some hits, a couple of misses, and one stupendous dessert
La Morra, it seems, is the little restaurant that could: back on its feet now after a kitchen fire in early March closed the place for several months. The Tuscan-style dishes, particularly those prepared on the restaurant’s wood-fired grill, are an appetizing homage to the time owners Jen and Josh Ziskin spent in Italy, while the chic bar, trendy exposed-brick interior, and attentive service can almost make you forget you’re staring straight out the window at Route 9.
Stop in for a drink and you’ll find a parade of characters at the bar, where the colorful cocktails remind me of little society ladies, each with their own flair. Tall, slim Violette is a vision in lavender, a mix of Hendrick’s gin and crème de violet draped in a yellow scarf of lemon peel; Ras’rita is a plump and jolly grande dame in a gown of deep pink raspberry and tequila, with thick wedges of lemon and lime plunked on the rim of the glass like two chunky rings of gold and emerald. She’s loud where Violette is quiet, cloying where Violette is subtle, but they’re both a good time in their own way.
The house-baked bread is good, with a tang reminiscent of sourdough, and it’s served with homemade ricotta in a pool of fruity olive oil, salt and pepper. It’s all the appetizer you need, but you can choose from a list of antipasti as well as cicchetti, small plates similar in style to tapas. Fork into one of the arancini, those fried balls of risotto that grace many an Italian menu, and an unctuous center of braised beef and smoked mozzarella will reveal itself to you. A seasonal cicchetti plate of fried squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta and gorgonzola was overwhelmed by the strong cheese, which spilled out upon first bite into a hot, pungent puddle.
Any dish that comes out of the Tuscan-style wood grill is a fine choice. The grill adds a distinctive flavor to an appetizer of bruschetta, topped with an irresistibly garlicky basil pesto and in-season tomatoes. An entrée of wood-grilled bluefish is smoky and filling; the fish is the star among its trappings of corn ragu, potatoes with parsley, and a minty herb sauce.
At La Morra, there are plenty of reminders that good, simple ingredients rarely need fussing; first, a summer salad of shaved corn, fresh August tomatoes, and slivers of basil, flecked with a white wine vinegar so mild it was almost sweet. Cornish hen grilled under a brick was perfectly cooked with just minimal seasoning, and the accompanying triangle of crispy polenta and zucchini sautéed with tomato and garlic were quiet, honest, and gratifying. Puttanesca sauce on a dish of orechiette draws your attention to every element individually—the fresh tomatoes, the parsley, the salty olives and capers, the savory bits of anchovy and bluefish.
Conversely, a dish of linguini con pomodorini—linguini with cherry tomatoes, herbs, and garlic—exemplified how overfussing can ruin a dish. The pasta was well-cooked, but it was too salty, overly dressed, and weighed down by an excess of oregano. Everything here was just too… much.
The dessert menu is full of dainty, summery choices: a trio of sorbets here, an espresso semifreddo there. The crostada with summer fruits—ours was filled with fresh peaches—was fine, but I recommend the marvelous panna cotta with blueberry sauce. It’s rich but light, with an intensely fruity blueberry sauce—truly the dessert of my summer, and I plan to give it an encore.
La Morra is open Monday through Thursday 5:30-10; Friday and Saturday 5:30-10:30; Sunday 5-9. 48 Boylston Street (Route 9), Brookline Village. MBTA: Green Line (D) to Brookline Village.