NOSH ON: Easy to warm up to

Cinquecento’s decor has an existentialist vibe. Photo: Erin Baldassari/Metro

Cinquecento’s dining room has an instant feeling of warmth. During the winter freeze, that’s saying a lot. Perhaps it’s the subtle lighting playing off ruby red Cinzano bottles stacked as decoration.  Perhaps they thankfully turned up the heat.

Cinquecento sits in defunct South End Italian restaurant ROCCA’s spot. The once airy interior was painstakingly revamped – really, that brick overlay was done twice to get the required shade of gray; quite existentialist – with dark woods and burnt brown upholstery. The bar was moved upstairs, adding a more communal atmosphere. And when the occasion arises, the patio is there for al fresco fun.

Of course, Cinquecento simply means 500 in Italian. Besides a street marker, here it announces the food theme for this latest spot in the successful Aquitaine Group, which repurposes European dining culture so well.

At Cinquecento, the menu supposedly echoes a Roman trattoria and includes familiar batches of pastas, anti-pasti, fish, meats and salumi. Chef de cuisine Justin Winters, who hopped over from Sorellina, includes two standouts, however. Kale (formerly mostly used as cattle food) seems to be the trendy vegetable du jour and Cinquecento’s kale salad might sound like it belongs at the local health nut restaurant, but it’s unbelievably tasty. The chopped kale is perfectly seasoned with shavings of pecorino and heavily oiled, which it’s robust texture and flavor takes on well. A few pine nuts and a little lemon juice shows off its phyto-goodness handsomely.

As an entrée, a thick fluke fillet cooked in parchment paper — Sogliola al Cartoccio — is super moist, yet firm and dense. The fish is steamed on top of scalloped potato layered with porcini and leeks, all of which form a delicious jus. Add some garlicky rabe, if you can take more verdure!

Entrees:  $17-$30
500 Harrison Ave., Boston, 617-338-9500


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