Panza

Panza’s unassuming entry way can easily be overlooked on Hanover Street, especially when it’s surrounded by the neon lights of Cantina Italiana and the usual long lines that pour out of Giacomo’s. I choose Panza for its substantial menu, attractive prices, and the fact that I never been there before!

Bread: A bread basket, with enough slices to go around at least twice for the 4 of us, was accompanied by a giant bowl of parmesan cheese! Luckily there was already EVOO on the table to mix it with. Bread was soft with a crunchy crust.

bread

bread

Menu: Appetizers, Salads, Pasta, Entrees, Sides. It may seem like a small menu but with 14 pastas and 9 entrees to choose from – on top of the tempting daily specials – deciding on a main course was not easy. More than anything I wanted the Butternut Squash Tortelloni, but I needed to branch out! Since I had pasta the night before I decided to compromise with the Grilled Maple Mustard Salmon with Butternut Squash Risotto 🙂 We started with the Fried Calamari for the table.

Food/Presentation: The calamari was drizzled with cherry pepper aioli which had a nice bite to it. Nothing too out of the ordinary here – a classic fried calamari! My butternut squash risotto was topped with a generous piece of salmon. I’m a huge mustard fan and was appreciative of the flavorful glaze. The pieces of actual butternut squash were a great addition to the creamy side.

salmon w BNS risotto

salmon w BNS risotto

Bathroom: One stall / one room. The outside of the door is covered in newspaper clippings. I was impressed that they had a modern bowl sink in such a casual establishment.

bathroom

bathroom

Wait Staff: Our waiter was really pleasant, made me smile, and the service of our app and entrées were in a timely fashion. It was a bit strange when clearing our plates he mentioned: “We don’t have coffee or dessert, so I’ll bring your check right over.” That’s a first! Granted we are in the North End and surrounded by dozens of pastry shops and cafés, but still, you’d think they’d want to boost revenue with a post-dinner drink…

Overall: A small, casual, quiet, and cozy spot. Perfect for an intimate date or a night out with a group of friends. Prices were reasonable, with pastas topping out at $18 (not including the lobster tails for $24) and entrées hitting a maximum price of $21. If I can get a delicious meal in a popular Boston neighborhood for under $20 then I’m beyond delighted!

wall decor

wall decor

The Perfect Bite: Butternut Squash anything will win my heart every time – that risotto was delicious!

www.panzarestaurant.com

Antico Forno

I had dinner plans with my friends, 2 of which live in the North End, so we decided it was time we dine there! We wanted to try a restaurant that was new to all of us and we landed on Antico Forno on Salem Street. I hadn’t heard much about it, but the menu looked reasonable and it’s brick oven pizzas won me over.

brick oven (background)

brick oven (background)

Bread: Thick, soft and doughy. We were a party of 4 and were given at least 8 pieces in a metal basket. Accompanied by a small dish of EVOO with crushed red pepper and olives.

bread and EVOO

bread and EVOO

Menu: Antipasti consisting of salads and 1 soup, a variety of Pizzas, Primi Pastas, Secondi, and Contorni (sides). The website boasts they have “the most traditional Italian pizza” – I wasn’t going to argue, so I went with the Margherita with artichokes.

Food/Presentation: The pizzas are generous in size with 8 slices that could have easily fed 2 people. The artichokes were plentiful which is a major plus. The pizza was good, with a crust between a thin and thick Sicilian (I prefer thin crust). Nothing extraordinary or over the top fantastic.

artichoke pizza

artichoke pizza

Bathroom: Standard one room/stall restroom. I did like the Xelertor hand dryer. The door had the most character.

bathroom door

bathroom door

Wait Staff: I sat alone at our table for about 25 minutes waiting for the rest of my party (I was early), and a waitress and another lady (manager? owner?) each greeted me to see if I wanted a beverage. Our waitress I could barely hear or understand, not because it was loud, but because she was soft-spoken and kind of unfriendly. She wasn’t rude but she certainly wasn’t overly helpful or welcoming.

Overall: For the North End, the prices were moderate. For the quality of the food, the prices were a bit high. The atmosphere and décor had a lot of character – exposed brick ovens, brick walls throughout, with small fires burning within the brick columns. The food was not bad by any means – everyone pretty much finished their meals – but there are much better places to visit in the North End.

brick columns / fire decor

brick columns / fire decor

The Perfect Bite: This may be the first time I’ve ever said this… but I’m going with the BREAD! The pizza wasn’t bad, but I don’t think it’s deserving of the perfect bite.

www.anticofornoboston.com

Tresca

Restaurant Week Adventure #2

I have never been to Tresca before & I’m always excited to try a new restaurant. I told the hostess I was here for the Raffa party of 4, for a 7pm reservation. She was having trouble finding me in their system, so I told her (with a bit of annoyance in my voice) that I could certainly find the email confirmation if necessary. I’m beginning to panic, but she eventually found my cell # somewhere and lead us to our table right by the open windows looking out onto Hanover Street. I make a comment about how I like the hard cover brass menu and our friend Mike looks down at it only to notice the name on the front: “Bricco” – umm, this is awkward… we all look at each other in shock/amusement that we’re complete idiots 🙂 We slowly get up, I tell the hostess how embarrassed I am, and we slip out and over to Tresca, the next door over. Best part is, I’ve been to Bricco before and my first thought upon entering “Tresca” was that it looked an awful lot like Bricco, which seemed strange to me. We were so focused on food we apparently didn’t care which restaurant we went to! Yeah.. so.. anyways…
 
Bread: Three different types came in the iron basket: a flaky thin piece, a long bread stick, and a sliced white Italian loaf, all accompanied by a small dish of EVOO. The Italian white bread was one of the best I’ve tasted – doughy, with a little sprinkle of salt on the top crust.
bread

bread

Menu: This Restaurant Week menu was different in the fact that the 3 courses it offered was an Antipasti, Pasta Fatta a Mano (a primi size of handmade pasta), and a Piatti Principali (main entree). I was a little disappointed that there was no dessert, but with Mike’s Pastry right down the street I knew I’d get my sweets by the end of the night. I had no trouble choosing my 3 courses:
  • Caesar con Tartufi
  • Gnocci Bolognese – traditional style veal & pork ragout enriched with pancetta & tomatoes
  • Pollo Romano – grilled, marinated chicken breast cutlet topped with arugula & grilled vegetables, served with creamy corn & sage polenta
Presentation: The Caesar came with chucks of shaved parm, my favorite! A white truffle (or mushroom) replaced the typical anchovie based Caesar dressing. I’m not a huge fan of ‘shrooms, but I was a fan of this salad – perfect amount of dressing, not too creamy or heavy, just enough so you get that Caesar taste. The gnocci was excellent, topped with shaved parm (perfect!). The word that came to mind after my 1st bite was “delicate” – the sauce was light but hearty at the same time, which was perfect. The chicken, topped with the arugula and sweet grilled onions, came next to a generous portion of polenta. I hardly ever order chicken at a restaurant b/c I cook it often – I have the same sentiments towards chicken as I do towards vanilla ice cream: a) it’s a waste of time, b) there’s always a better option. The dish was good, loved the corn in the polenta (my motivatoin to order the dish), but I was too full to clean the plate.
 
Bathroom: A one stall bathroom with a rustic yet modern decor. An old school faucet poured into a beautiful brass bowl. The two styles mixed well.
bathroom

bathroom

Wait Staff: I found it a bit odd that we had to ask for the Restaurant Week menu. No big deal, but hello, that’s why I’m here! 🙂 Our waiter was animated & friendly, and urged us to return to try Tresca’s daily menu. Also, our water glasses were never less than 1/2 full – points to the bus boys for water attentiveness!
 
Overall: The bread was faaaantastic and I really enjoyed the pasta. The waiter was engaging, encouraged us to return, and I think I’ll do just that! Next time I hope to sit downstairs in one of their whimsical booths looking out onto Hanover, rather than in the quieter upstairs dining room.
 
The Perfect Bite: The bolognese sauce had such great balance with the amount of meat & tomatoes, and the gnocci was light despite being a full pasta. Another bolognese well done!
gnocci bolognese

gnocci bolognese

Mare

Maine Peekytoe Crab Cake

Maine Peekytoe Crab Cake

Owner Frank DePasquale opened Boston’s first all-natural & organic ingredient filled menu on Richmond Street in the North End. This restaurant is designed to make you feel like you’re dining in a fish bowl, as 75% of the surrounding walls are glass windows which look out onto the busy streets of this Italian influenced part of Boston. Muted by a soft white drape, the back wall radiates a rotation of neon colors that reminds me of coral one would see in the tropics. The atmosphere is sophisticated yet relaxed, perfect for a date night or dinner out with a group of friends.

Bread: Served in a basket alongside a dish of olive oil, the two breads to choose from where slices of Italian and what seemed like a  rustic, hearty, multi-grain bread. The latter was worth going back for seconds.

Menu: This two page menu is presented on a clipboard, complete with Antipasti, Primi, Secondi, Contorni, and a Chef’s Tasting with a choice of a five or seven course meal. I was with a party of six, so we decided to share a few appetizers: the Bufala Mozzarella Caprese, my addition of the Soft Polenta,  and the Maine Peekytoe Crab Cake. For the main course I settled on the Hand Rolled Ricotta Gnudi with a beef bolognese. My first choice (which I regret not choosing) was the chesnut & black pepper Pappardelle with wild boar, charred leeks, ricotta salata. My friend reminded me that I can’t pass up trying their bolognese, and the reason I was originally hesitant was the pasta choice: Gnudi (NEW-d) pasta is similar to a gnocchi but is lighter as it’s not made with potato. The dish was great, I enjoyed the hearty sauce, but I prefer to have my bolognese with a Tagliatelle or Penne pasta.

Presentation: Served in a deep bowl with heirloom tomatoes over basil oil & balsamic, the Caprese’s buffalo mozzarella was a unique take on the traditional Italian antipasti. The soft polenta was served (I believe) in the steel skillet it was cooked in, topped with mushrooms which I happily ignored. The polenta itself however was more creamy than gritty, which some may prefer but I like my polenta to have more of a textured taste. Three small crab cakes were placed on a long dish with a trio of aiolis.

Bathrooms: In the back towards the kitchen, I appreciated that the one stall was a separate room from the sink, which eliminated any awkward walk-ins. Yes, there are always locks on the doors, but for some reason I never trust them. The restroom was clean and modern, and I especially liked the texture of the “steel drum” like base of the sink.

Wait Staff: My boyfriend & I arrived a few minutes before the rest of the party and we were promptly seated. Our appetizers, meals, and after dinner drinks all came out at perfect times; we were not hurried to finish any dish, and were also never looking around wondering when the next course was coming out.

Overall: You can’t beat the feeling of dining at Mare; with the cool lighting and flat screens in each corner displaying photographs of Italy, you forget you’re in the hectic North End. I have no complaints about the food; my boyfriend thoroughly enjoyed his Homemade Potato Gnocci with roasted duck, and my friend made a great point that her Stripped Bass was cooked perfectly, which is not an easy task. The only unsettling part of the night was seeing the prices on the menu. I choose my Gnudi bolognese because it was a cheaper Primi, and you could certainly tell by the amount of pasta I was given. It was a perfect size only because I had a sampling of all three appetizers. I suppose you’re paying for an outstanding quality of fish and the all organic ingredients that go into making each dish, but with my current status I’d only return for a special occasion.

The Perfect Bite: I had never tried the gnudi pasta and while I did favor it’s lighter consistency over the gnocchi, the creamy aiolis with the Maine Crab Cakes was superb … I also must add an honorable mention of the palate cleanser we were given: a slice of cucumber, topped with a blood orange, and a ricotta cheese lobster mousse. Unexpected, dainty, & delicious!

www.marenatural.com

Ristorante Fiore

This restaurant, located on Hanover Street in the North End, holds the record of my boyfriend’s favorite meal in all of Boston: Bombolotti alla Vodka. He’s never ordered another entrée at this restaurant and doesn’t plan on doing so in the future. I’ve maybe been there 5 times and have ordered it 4 out of the 5 times (my first time there I wasn’t aware of how special it was). It’s truly delicious, I enjoy their signature pasta over the everyday penne, and they get the vodka sauce just right without being too creamy.

Bread: three different types are served with EVOO. There is a biscuit type of roll that is the only one that’s worth going back for seconds.

Menu: traditional Italian menu, with sections of Antipasti, Insalate, Primi, Secondi, Contorti, and their signature pastas. Presentation: not much you can do with a bowl of pasta, but the Insalata di Pomodoro was laid out beautifully with the tomatoes and mozzarella overlapping each other, basil at each end. Everything appeared fresh and that much more appetizing!

Bathroom: the low point of the night for me, but don’t think that means I wouldn’t recommend this restaurant. It’s a small bathroom with 4-5 stalls, nothing that really grabbed my attention. It was neat & clean, so I’m not complaining. But the lack of originality didn’t matter; I was still thinking about my entrée and anxiously awaiting the best tiramisu in town.

Wait Staff: I’ve never had a disappointing waiter here, but this evening we had a lovely waitress who could not have been more adorable and pleasant. Attentive, checked up on us at appropriate times, always a smile on her face (and mine as well every time she approached the table).

Overall: I’ve never had any complaints about Fiore. I look forward to sitting on their roof deck in the summer!

The Perfect Bite: Insalata di Pomodoro. Fresh basil, fresh tomato, fresh mozzarella, olive oil. Yes, I emphasized the “fresh” because that’s exactly how it tasted.

www.ristorantefiore.com