Kick your carb-free diet to the curb.
August may still be bathing suit weather, but this month we saw the opening of Fat Hen, a highly anticipated new Italian from chef Michael Bergin, previously of L'Espalier, Del Posto and A Voce. But this Somerville restaurant, an intimate 30-seat space that neighbors La Brasa, is emphasizing a housemade pasta program that is totally deserving of a cheat day splurge. Plus, you'll find braised meats and plates of locally foraged produce, all inspired by Bergin's memories of dinner with his Italian grandparents.
"I'm a slow cooking junkie," says Bergin. "When my grandparents cooked, it was an all-day process. The smells would permeate the house." There's a certain sense of cozy intimacy to the long, narrow dining room created by BHaley Designs (the same group behind just-opened haley.henry). Eleven-foot high banquets are adorned with twinkling LED lights; a showpiece shelving unit exhibits vintage stemware and collections of amaro. When you do need a tipple, Fat Hen will slake thirst with a list of all-Italian craft beers, unique wines and creative cocktails prepared at La Brasa's bar and passed into the space through a small square window.
As for the eats? Here's the skinny on some of Fat Hen's tastiest plates.
126 Broadway, Somerville; 617-764-1612
Casonsèi. "We're not focusing on any one particular region," says Bergin. The northern region of Lombardy is represented with casonsèi ("pleated pant") a pasta filled with creamy Cloumage cheese, made from Jersey cow's milk by Westport's Shy Brothers Farm. It's served with sourdough crumble and Parmesan in a brown cremini mushroom sauce.
Bucatini. Fat Hen "invested a lot of economy" in the equipment for its in-house pasta program, says Bergin. Seen here, a veggie-friendly bucatini with Mediterranean flavors of cauliflower, chickpeas, roasted garlic and chile, plus some preserved lemon that has been house cured in salt and sugar for a full month. It's dusted with pecorino.
Anchovies. "I wanted to try and do an Italian take on hummus," says Bergin, whose early dining memories include his grandparents cracking open containers of anchovy. He looked to the heat of Sicily and southern Italy for this antipasti's inspiration, creating an anchovy-laden spread of white bean purée with Calarbian chile and fennel pollen, scooped with wheat crackers. "It's something interactive for guests to share."
Porgy. The Boot meets the Bay State with this porgy dish. The white fish, caught in local Massachusetts waters, is braised with tomato, fennel and shishito pepper, and finished with colatura di alici, a Sicilian fish sauce of fermented anchovies.
Chicken al Mattone. This Tuscan-inspired preparation highlights Bergin's efforts to work with small purveyors where possible. He cooks chicken from Raynham's Feather Brook Farm under weight to attain super-crispy skin and serves it in a chicken jus vinaigrette with burnt cipollini onions, taggiasca olives grown in the Liguria mountains, and fairy tale eggplants – miniature, mere inch-sized versions eaten un-peeled – that are grown by Sparrow Arc Farm in Copake, New York, just over the Western Mass border.
Cold smoked trout. Bergin says he wanted to incorporate "delicatessen"-inspired flavors as a nod to Italy's Jewish community, hence this cured trout that is delicately cold smoked with white oak and served with artichokes, controne hot peppers (a spicy pepper from Campania) and cucumbers sourced from White Barn Farm in Wrentham.