CAMBRIDGE – Behind the kitchen doors at Giulia in Cambridge is a man with a passion for pasta. Rolling. Stretching. Flouring. Folding. Fluffing every piece of pasta. Chef Mike Pagliarini and his wife Pam have created a true labor of love.
“Giulia is named after a street in Rome,” Pam explained. “Mike and I had a wonderful vacation in Italy a few years back, and at that point we had been talking a lot about starting a restaurant. And we did all this while walking down a street called the Via Giulia which is one of the most beautiful streets you’ll ever see in Rome. When we were thinking about naming the restaurant, we knew that we wanted an Italian name, and we kept coming back to Giulia.”
“It was her foray into the restaurant business,” Mike added. “That’s been my career for years and years, but this is something that we’ve talked about and dreamed about for a very long time.”
Now, their dream has been fulfilled at this authentic Italian eatery on Mass. Ave, full of exposed brick, cozy booths and banquettes, and an open kitchen just feet from the tables.
“You can watch and gauge people’s reactions sometimes. You’re really that close. I love the open kitchen and the proximity,” said Mike. “When we serve a bowl of pasta, it is seconds from being finished. So things like fusilli, and penne, and rigatoni and buccatini and the other pastas, like pappardelle and tagliatelle and linguine – we’re rolling by hand, and cutting out of a flat sheet of dough.”
The pastas are all made fresh during the day right on a long, rustic, wooden table. Then, later in the evening, the table transforms into the best seat in the house.
“People definitely reserve it for special occasions. It’s like you’re dining in someone’s home,” Mike revealed. “The table’s yours; there’s no menus presented. I get to interact with you quite a bit and talk about likes and dislikes. It’s a great part of our restaurant.”
You’ll find a lot of customers at that table, and throughout the dining room, enjoying mouthwatering buccatini pasta with house cured pancetta and incredibly fragrant hand-cut pappardelle with wild boar, black trumpet mushrooms, juniper berries and aged parmigiano.
“When the pappardelle is going through the dining room you can smell it,” Mike described. “I think that convinces a lot of people to try it, because when the first one goes out, then the orders start coming in for more and more. Pretty soon we have the whole dining room full of pappardelle.”
That dish is also Pam’s personal favorite. And that’s coming from somebody who’s had a noodle obsession since childhood.
“My parents will tell you this: that my favorite food growing up was spaghetti and meatballs. I always loved it. So I think it’s kind of certainly ironic that I married someone who makes pasta every day,” she said.
The menu at Giulia follows the traditional Italian progression. You start with a small “sfitzi”, like the one-bite beauty of a semolina cake that melts in your mouth. Then comes the antipasti: bruschetta with Tuscan kale and rich house made ricotta cheese, a bowl full of clams with pancetta and spinach, and irresistibly creamy burrata cheese with charred peppers, golden raisins and pine nuts.
For the main course you can dig into dishes like the flavorful Sicilian style swordfish, or the luscious steak alla Fiorentina, topped with a traditional salsa verde boasting fresh herbs, capers, lemon, and garlic.
Then finally, dessert delivers with a smooth housemade pistachio gelato, and a truly masterful chocolate terrine.
“It’s a balancing act between chocolate, toasted coconut, and almonds, which is not an innovative combination, but it’s a really good one. It’s essentially a chocolate mousse, and it’s dense and rich and creamy; so much so that you can slice it,” Mike explained.
“The first thing I’ll always order off a dessert menu is chocolate, so it is one of my favorites,” Pam admitted. “We’ve had some guests liken it to an Almond Joy candy bar. The flavor combinations are very similar.”
That’s what the Italians called “La Dolce Vita”, or “the sweet life,” and since Guilia was inspired by Italy and named after an Italian street, Pam and Mike run it the Italian way.
“This is such a personal business. What we make is given to people for them to eat and enjoy and that’s a pretty powerful connection,” said Mike. “We want to earn people’s trust so that when you come in for dinner you can enjoy the company of the people that you’re with.”
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