Sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savory: the five elements of taste perception that those little buds in our mouths report to our brains.
They tell us if we like something, or if something doesn’t taste quite right; if it tastes like coming home to a clean house, happy children and that specialty dish for which your spouse is famous for or if it tastes like the time you went out to eat and got into a fight with your boyfriend.
Dina’s officially opened on Thursday, March 3, 2011. It is the child of long-time restaurateur, Dino Mitrokostas, and sister of Dino’s other child, the popular Dino’s Sports Bar in Mashpee.
This past Wednesday evening, I visited Hyannis’ newest restaurant and crossed my fingers for the clean house and specialty dish.
I was greeted immediately with soft lighting and earthy pinks and green-blues on the high walls. Freshly painted white crown molding provided an intimate atmosphere—like if your best friend were an HGTV designer and she were having a get-together in her very comfortable living room that happened to be a restaurant.
I was also greeted immediately by Michelle, who offered me—the first guest of the evening—my pick of seating, which was refreshingly spread out. There were roughly 15 to 18 sleekly designed tables and a small handful of cushioned booths.
Michelle asked me if I had ever been to Harry’s Blues Bar, which space Dina’s has revamped and renovated so well that I had forgotten all about Harry’s, until she asked.
She said that she is excited about the space, which still has the stage and will be home to many local bands and DJs, and about the environment, which goes 21-plus after 7 p.m., when there is a dress code imposed.
I sat at a 4-person table and had the first monumental task before me: ordering a drink. After contemplating such specialty martinis as the Boston Crème Pie and the Chocolate Lovers, I went with my gut instinct for the Gummy Bear Martini.
The drink was the first experience of Dina’s to which my taste buds were introduced and they sent this report to my brain: “Wow!” It tasted not like one single gummy bear, but a handful of them. The Gummy Bear martini definitely hit the “sweet” taste buds.
As concerns the appetizer, I’m usually a wing girl. Sometimes, I’m in the mood for nachos or mozzarella sticks, both of which Dina’s offers, along with a spinach and artichoke dip and a hummus and veggie platter. But that night, I was a Tuscan Stuffed Mushroom girl. A very happy Tuscan Stuffed Mushroom girl.
Within 10 minutes, six sizzling mushrooms arrived, bubbling and perfectly browned on the top. I cut into that first mushroom, and noted that the fungus was firm, not rubbery and drowning in a pool of yellow oil like I have had them elsewhere.
The breading was moist and seasoned just right, and the cheese melted on top added a nice saltiness that paired well with the sweetness of the breading and the earthiness of the mushroom.
Deciding on the entrée was difficult. When I return, I will order the Blackberry and Goat Cheese Salad. I will Build a Burger with avocado and blue cheese crumbles. I will treat myself to the Fruit de Mare (a dish of mussels, shrimp, scallops and littleneck clams) and quite possibly the Super Buffalo Chicken pizza.
But for this review, I chose the Chicken Marsala, which turned out to be an eye-opening moment for me.
I wrote in my notes: “Prosciutto and mushrooms give it a tangy but also earthy flavor. Shallots!!! They are well-cooked and firm, not mushy. Chicken is nicely floured. Sauce light, but totally flavorful.”
And all of that was true, but there was some secret description I was missing, some elusive explanation for the meal for which I had no vocabulary, until Chef Eric came out and said to me: “I cook with simplicity in mind.
A true Marsala doesn’t weigh itself down with all the brown sauce and chicken stock—it’s just Marsala wine and butter.”
Oh, simplicity! The secret of the dish was that I could actually taste the ingredients, because they were unshackled by pounds of grease, spices and heavily processed participants.
The Marsala had captured the “savory” taste bud.
But it wouldn’t end there.
Dina’s Homemade Tiramisu came in a Martini glass and, instead of sponge cake soaked in a strong, fake amaretto syrup, this was light and fluffy with a coffee pudding at the bottom. It was served with a crunchy, flaky cookie stick and a drizzle of hardened chocolate.
Complementary to the food experience, the service was excellent. Michelle anticipated my needs at all the right times: water, another napkin, a wrap-up for the food I couldn’t possibly finish (to which she attended herself).
She also mentioned that she loves the place, which, if you have been around many servers, is not something you hear very often, and which gives you the sense that the business is going to be well taken care of.
So, ultimately: success! The service was fantastic, the drinks were creative, and the food (which, by the way, is very competitively priced) was eye-opening.
In fact, the only reason I had any “bitter” or “sour” tastes in my mouth was because I was running late for a PTO meeting and had to leave that Martini glass half full of deliciously liberated tiramisu.