Since he opened Posto three years ago, chef-owner Joe Cassinelli has worked to make one thing clear: This Davis Square spot isn’t “just” a pizzeria. Wood-fired pies, a centerpiece, are prepared according to the official guidelines of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, with the same ingredients and techniques used in Naples. Mozzarella is made fresh every day. Produce comes from local growers when possible. Et cetera.
In case you weren’t listening, he recently brought on board some impressive new talent. Executive chef Wyatt Maguire previously worked at Barbara Lynch’s vaunted Menton. Robert Jean of the Columbus Hospitality Group becomes culinary director of Alpine Restaurant Group, the parent company of Posto and sister restaurant the Painted Burro. And former Menton general manager Alec Riveros is now Alpine’s operations director. Cassinelli is set to open a second branch of the Mexican Painted Burro downtown, in the space left open by the dearly departed Windsor Button. These hires telegraph how seriously he takes both food and hospitality, and how seriously he wants his restaurants to be taken. (Cassinelli spent formative years at Columbus Hospitality Group restaurants Mistral, Teatro, and L’Andana, where this ethos was likely internalized.)
It’s clear why he would want to lure talent from Menton. But why would a chef leave one of the city’s most accomplished, serious restaurants to help run not-just-a-pizzeria? One can imagine reasons both practical and culinary, but perhaps the most basic is this: Posto is an appealing restaurant, and much of that appeal lies in its simplicity. The menu features a dozen or so pizza variations, antipasti and salads, and another dozen or so pasta, fish, and meat dishes. Nothing is tricked out or overwrought. These are laidback, pleasing flavors, enticingly combined. It’s the kind of place people want to eat at regularly, not just as a treat.
Bruschetta comes topped with roasted grape tomatoes, goat cheese, and basil. Could you make something like these toasts yourself? Easily. But they look so appealing, with the bright red tomatoes piled high on white drifts of goat cheese — just the right thing to accompany a
microbrew, a glass of crisp Italian white wine, a summery Aperol spritz, or one of the other house cocktails. We see platter after platter being delivered by the attentive servers. (On one visit, we watch a staffer head out to feed the meter so a guest doesn’t get a ticket.) Tables are full every night of the week. There are college friends, couples on dates, families with young children, gray-haired groups. It says plenty about Posto, which opened in a space many had declared cursed. Previous restaurants O’Naturals, Boloco, and Green Tomato II opened and closed in quick succession. There are no curses, only bad — or badly situated — concepts.
Meatballs are a fine, rich rendition,
enrobed in tomato sauce and topped with cheese; the dish arrives bubbling. Fried calamari is fried calamari, but the squid is so tender and the batter so light, it’s a reminder of why we all fell for the stuff in the first place. A golden pile of rings and tentacles, all it needs is a squirt of lemon, but the accompanying pine nut romesco sauce doesn’t hurt. Trout comes with head and tail still on, kale and marcona almonds piled where guts used to be. Mozzarella, prosciutto, and peaches team up on one plate, summery and savory. Many of these offerings are more compositions than they are dishes. It’s a satisfying way to eat, and to cook.
There are touches of elegance here, too: Maine crab tortellini is prettily composed, plump dumplings swimming in a bright green pea broth swirled with Parmesan crema. The flavors are light and clean, although the dish needs more salt. A salad of slender green beans tangled with pea shoots, pink pickled onions, olives, and pistachio pesto looks as fresh as it tastes.
More often, however, the focus is on taste over appearance. Gnocchi with lamb is satisfying comfort food, but it could use a green garnish, or something, to add pizazz to the plate. One of Posto’s most delicious dishes, pork tenderloin, looks relatively unappealing, a brown cutlet piled high with tiny brown beech, or shimeji, mushrooms. But underneath is a stack of skinny, tender asparagus, and there is just enough Marsala to deepen and complement the other components without being too sweet.
Posto’s flavors don’t always add up. Octopus with soppres-sata, cured tomato, chili, and garbanzo beans sounds as though it will be a taste explosion but somehow manages to be bland. A salad that promises baby beets, pistachios, feta, and orange vinaigrette is too plain, mainly hunks of beets. Swordfish is dry, although the yellow tomato risotto with which it is served is excellent. Steak comes overcooked, accompanied by peach and tomato panzanella. This bread salad is well conceived, but the bread itself is almost too crunchy to bite; you could shatter a tooth on the stuff. With the new talent on board, one might expect a bit more finesse. Perhaps it will come with time.
Too, the dessert menu of flourless chocolate cake and cannoli could be more creative. There’s a fine line between classic and basic, although no one would complain about the massive serving of cloudlike tiramisu.
Then there’s the pizza. The crust, crisp outside and tender inside, is charred in spots, with chewy bubbles here and there. A margherita pie showcases the essential flavors of tomato and mozzarella (with not enough basil), while the frutta pizza balances figs, gorgonzola, bacon, and caramelized onions without seeming too busy. There are pies topped with all manner of salumi, with kale and egg, with eggplant and goat cheese. There’s not a bad combination in the lot.
Posto is more than a pizzeria. It’s a fine neighborhood restaurant. Pizza just happens to be what it does best.Devra First can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.