On the Freedom Trail in Boston's North End you'll find this gem of a restaurant, free from the lines of tourists awaiting a seat on Hanover Street.
With deep but muted colors (olive and persimmon) and interesting lighting, original art, a wall of windows on one side and an open kitchen along the back - the dining room manages to feel at once both elegant and comfortable. We stopped in for our most recent meal on a whim. We were dressed for the walk, not for dinner (jeans, T shirts, loafers, sandals). Still, we were made to feel every bit as welcome as the special occasion diners near by.
Family owned and run, the service reflects careful attention and training. All the little things are in evidence here and flow together seamlessly to make each diner feel well-cared for. One has the impression that each of the staff from busboys to hostesses actually care that you're enjoying your meal. That's both hiring and training that too often does not happen. In many restaurants you find either perfunctory service or the 1,000 mile stare. Or, you get the forced smile or too-chummy servers (I don't need to be your best friend to appreciate you.) Here - it's well-balanced.
There's a slip of a wine bar to the right-hand side as you enter. The open kitchen in the back. I love an open kitchen, it shows confidence and professionalism. I also think it must offer occasional glimpses of the enjoyment of diners to the staff. Call me a romantic, but I think they must be glad to see that occasionally.
Handmade pastas are offered here, and though not all dishes are made with them, those that are rise above ever so slightly. The ravioli are well worth trying. The Bolognese over Pappardelle was being delivered to the young girl to my left just as we were seated. The fragrance was so enticing (I could smell the tomato as well as the tang of cheese) and the dish so visually appealing, I simply couldn't bring myself to order anything else. There was a wonderful array of choices that tempted, but each would be measured against the hypothetical question "..but, will it be as good as that?"
The service was perfect, friendly, efficient, just the right way of making you feel included. He clearly had pride in the food and enjoyed ensuring his customers' delight. Has a few quick conversational snippets about neighborhood regulars but just enough to be relaxing without creeping into that "is he ever gonna leave" territory that some novice servers seem to live in. He also avoided gossipy, over-sharing.
The wine list has won Wine Spectator Award of Excellence 2006, 2007, 2008 and several are offered by the glass.
Pay attention to the specials. On the recent night we visited, I had a special appetizer of fresh buffalo mozzarella with three toppings. The intensity of each topping complemented the creamy mozzarella perfectly. It's a nice one to keep in mind as the weather gets warmer. Good mozzarella is cooling and comforting. We laughed at how different our childhood mozzarella was, tasting every bit like the plastic it came encased in. Doc had the calamari which was so expertly grilled and so fresh, one bite took me back to a Mediterranean vacation decades ago. You could close your eyes and feel the sun.
Calamari alla Griglia
Grilled calamari, fennel & baby greens salad, roasted lemon vinaigrette
Trio of Mozzarella
Peppers red and yellow ribbons, caramelized onions agrodolce, pesto cherry tomatoes
Ravioli di Funghi Porcini in Brodo
Porcini mushroom ravioli in a roasted aromatic broth
Pasta ribbons with meat ragout in the style of Bologna
143 Richmond St.
Boston, MA 02109