This is one of those iconic Boston dishes that really needs no introduction, but let's start with a few anyway.
Mark Bittman, in a 2002 New York Times article, called No. 9 Park's Prune-Stuffed Gnocchi appetizer ($21) "a no-holds-barred spectacle." Ike Delorenzo, in a 2009 Boston Globe retrospective on five of the all-time-best dishes in the Hub, dubbed it "marvelously clever" and shared a personal anecdote about how his 14-year-old niece found the dish so tasty, she actually stopped texting at the table to eat them. And Globe restaurant critic Devra First spelled out a bold truth when she said this is "possibly one of the best dishes ever served in a Boston restaurant."
In simple terms, it's a three part dish—gnocchi, sauce, and garnishes—but if you read the recipe (Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition, pp: 159-162), it's clear that plenty of thought (and labor) goes into each component.
Unlike most gnocchi that are stubby and uniform, these are longer and plumper, the pillowy potato dough folded neatly over a sweet, silky purée of vin santo-soaked prunes and then indented in the middle so that the finished product resembles a little canoe. They're fat and cute and manage to pull off the elusive balance of rich, sumptuous flavors captured in a delicate frame.
Things start getting progressively decadent from there. The sauce—basically a log of foie gras butter melted with more vin santo into an almost glaze-y reduction—is the meatiest-tasting beurre blanc you've ever had, with a pronounced sweetness from the wine. It's also a preview of things to come—specifically, the three wedges of seared liver that sit perched on top of the pasta. Rosy in the center, swollen with fat, and deeply bronzed all over, the foie pieces look like prime steaks fit for Lilliputian royalty. (And at about $60 per pound for the Hudson Valley stuff, it may as well be.)
The other garnishes are simple and pitch-perfect: wrinkly, chewy bits of prune, toasted and chopped Marcona almonds (this mashup of Italian and French fare just side-stepped into Spain), and feathery leaves of chervil placed just so on the gnocchi spines (I'm gonna bet a pair of precision tweezers were involved in plating).
In other words, it's a stunner and a splurge-worthy rite of passage if you like to eat out in this town.
No. 9 Park
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Associate Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Top 5 foods: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.