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Globe North Dining Out

Look past bar to find delightful Italian fare

January 10, 2010

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Your first glimpse inside Sagra will likely reveal a bar full of 20-somethings, a bevy of televisions tuned to a game, and neon beer signs. If you’re more than five years out of college, you may be tempted to flee to some other Davis Square eatery that’s less bar, more restaurant.

But the bar scene isn’t the whole story. It’s well worth sticking around for a meal.

Upon closer examination, the restaurant’s interior is quite handsome. Rich red walls create a warm, cozy atmosphere, perfect for a blustery January night. Dark wood and leather, hip chandeliers, and a funky wall of textured glass complete the sophisticated look.

The menu of honest, robust Italian fare - described on the restaurant’s website as “road-side Italian’’ - includes many options that look quite wonderful. The choosing isn’t easy.

While deciding, try an appetizer or two. Particularly enjoyable are the arancini ($7), traditional rice balls with a gooey heart of meat ragu and cheese, a delightful delicacy that’s sadly rare in this country. With just a hint of saffron, Sagra’s lightly fried arancini were luscious yet not overly filling.

Seemingly a relative of the arancini, the croquettes ($6) also were wondrous. Triangular rather than spherical, they lacked the arancini’s meat and cheese filling, but were no less delicious. The eggplant involtini ($8), rolls of grilled eggplant wrapped around herbed ricotta, were creamy and fresh-tasting, while the marinated olives ($7) with wedges of lemon and orange made a great light appetizer.

The menu’s promise of an “intense meat sauce’’ in the lasagna vincisgrassi ($14) was certainly on the money: This was probably the meatiest lasagna I’ve ever eaten, more a meat pie than the typical layered concoction. It was a delicious dish, but alas, all the meat overpowered the homemade pasta cited by our knowledgeable waitress as one of the lasagna’s signature strengths.

The fresh pasta was much more in evidence in the tagliatelle con funghi ($14), a creamy yet woodsy stew of noodles flavored with aromatic mushrooms. If only there were a ski area in Davis Square, this warm, comforting dish would make perfect après-ski fare.

The pork tenderloin ($19) was just that: an entire pork tenderloin. Topped with an onion compote, the meat was moist and tender, but the real star was the accompanying side of gorgonzola gnocchi. Potently, decadently cheesy, these hearty squares of pasta could easily have made a meal by themselves.

My least favorite entrée was the chicken saltimbocca ($16). Cooked in beef broth rather than the more common chicken broth or marsala, the overall flavor was a dissonant chicken-beef hybrid.

While the roasted red potatoes served with the chicken saltimbocca were tasty, the flavors of other contorni, or sides, were lopsided. The caponata ($4) boasted a nice mix of al dente eggplant, zucchini, and peppers, but tasted like spoonfuls of pungent, unadulterated capers. Similarly, a roasted red pepper and olive insalata ($4) was seemingly all pepper and no discernible olive.

We realized only belatedly that there is a small dessert menu. Neither of our servers asked if we were interested in sweets to end our meals, understandable since at least half of our ample entrees ended up in doggie bags.

STEVE BRADT

Sagra
400 Highland Ave., Somerville
617-625-4200
www.sagrarestaurant.com
Hours: Monday to Thursday, 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. (dinner served until 10 p.m.); Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. (dinner until 12:30 a.m.); Sunday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. (dinner until 10 p.m.)
Major credit cards accepted
Handicapped accessible

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