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Best of Boston’s North End: Pomodoro

12 Sep

A trip to Boston wouldn’t be complete without a night in the North End, Boston’s Italian neighborhood. It is vibrant and quaint, and a fascinating hybrid of old and new—one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods (filled with tenements during the surge of Italian immigration in the late 1800s and early 1900s), it has been dragged into the 21st century but is still holding tight to its heritage and traditions. The main street, Hanover St., is lined with restaurants and bustling with both old- and new-world Italians, while the alley-sized cobblestone side streets look like they have been left untouched by the past two centuries. The neighborhood regularly features octogenarians sitting at café tables or in lawn chairs, smoking cigarettes and speaking (often yelling) a unique Boston blend of Italian dialects and English. Old North Church, the focal point of Paul Revere’s Ride, is at the center of the neighborhood, and you can feel the history and age in each cobblestone.

In addition to its cultural and historic appeal, the North End has some of the best food in the city. Sure, it has its share of Americanized Italian rip-offs, but fewer than in New York’s Little Italy, in my opinion. And since Boston has one of the largest Italian populations in the country, you’re bound to find some great, authentic food, if you know where to look.

One of my favorite restaurants in the neighborhood is Pomodoro (which is Italian for “tomato”), a tiny space with lots of big flavors. It has probably six or seven tables at most, accepts only cash, and doesn’t even have a functional website—making for an intimate dining experience that perfectly fits the true atmosphere of the neighborhood. Even the napkins convey the restaurant’s tone—they look like (and very well may be) dish cloths, like what you would find tucked in your grandmother’s apron, used to wipe the flour off her hands as she makes pasta.

The server was very friendly but stretched pretty thin, as it seemed she was covering all the tables in the restaurant. She brought basket after basket of great bread (we were hungry) accompanied by an assortment of olives sitting in a dish of extra virgin olive oil. She also checked with the kitchen about nuts on everything we ordered, including the bread. She gave the disclaimer that the bread may contain traces of nuts because they don’t make it on the premises, but added that she has never seen anyone have a reaction to it. I ate it at my own risk (and was fine).

The menu is notably nut-free, for the most part. The pasta options seem to overshadow the entrée choices, which are mostly Italian favorites like veal scaloppini but also feature less tired ideas such as baked cod in a rustic plum tomato sauce. We decided to split two pasta dishes: the tiger shrimp tossed with linguini in a white sauce with garlic, extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs (you could also choose a plum tomato sauce), and the P.E.I. mussels marinara tossed with fresh herbs and linguini.

While both dishes were outstanding, the tiger shrimp stole the show. The white sauce was buttery but still light, and the garlic was subtle. The shrimp was well-seasoned and the fresh tomatoes were a great addition. Overall a very flavorful dish, satisfying but light enough to be a great summer choice.

Tiger shrimp with linguini

The P.E.I. mussels marinara was also delicious, and definitely more hearty. The marinara sauce was thick and flavorful, and the mussels were fresh and not fishy. [Fun fact: did you know that in authentic Italian cuisine, a marinara sauce is a fish sauce, not a red sauce? The root of the word is “mare,” which means “sea.”]

PEI mussels marinara

One of the best features of this restaurant, aside from the stellar food and cozy atmosphere, is the free dessert. That’s right, I said free. At the end of each meal, the server brings a slice (albeit a small one) of tiramisu, which is as delicious as you would expect. It’s also nut-free, made without any nut-based liquors like amaretto.

Free tiramisu!

The restaurant is not cheap, but it’s not unreasonable. After a bottle of wine and two entrees, the total came out to about $50 each, after tip.

I recommend making reservations ahead of time, because the restaurant is so tiny. And remember to bring cash, because it’s never fun to run to the closest ATM when the bill comes, especially when you get hit with $5 in fees. But as far as the North End goes, it’s one of the best restaurants there is.

RATINGS

  • Food: 8.5
  • Presentation: 7
  • Menu: 7
  • Service: 7
  • Ambiance: 8
  • Allergy-friendliness: 8
  • Cost: $$-$$$

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

THE DEETS

Pomodoro
319 Hanover St.
(between Bennet St. & Fleet St.)
Boston, MA 02113
(617) 367-4348

Check out Pomodoro’s Yelp profile

“The Town” Favorite: Figs in Charlestown, Mass.

7 Jun

This week I’m back in Boston to attend my little sister’s high school graduation (congrats, Kristen!) so I made sure to hit some of my favorite places. Stop number one: Figs in Charlestown.

Charlestown used to be my neighborhood, so it will always have a special place in my heart. (Yes, I’m talking about the same Charlestown that inspired the 2010 Ben Affleck movie “The Town” but it is far nicer and more quaint than the movie depicted! But that’s a different story for a different day.)

Figs is a Todd English restaurant (one of his first, I believe), the casual cousin to his more famous Olives, which is just a few blocks away. (For my money, having tried both, Figs comes out the winner—for your stomach and your wallet!) Figs is tucked away on tree-lined Main Street in Charlestown’s gaslight district. It’s pretty tiny—you certainly get cozy with your neighboring tables—but the dark wood and even darker lighting lends a slightly upscale look to what otherwise feels like just your typical beloved neighborhood spot. The pizza station and brick oven are open so you can watch them making the pizza, but no one seems to notice, instead chatting with their dining companions and diving into the huge pizzas.

My friend and fellow “townie” Ashley joined me a little before 7 PM on Monday and we had our pick of tables, but it started to fill up towards 7:30. Later in the week, reservations during peak hours are advised.

The menu is overwhelming, not for its size but for its array of tempting options. The pizzas are definitely the specialties, though I’ve heard good things about the pasta. Pizza options range from the traditional—bianco, crispy eggplant, four cheese—to the more unique, such as the shrimp scampi pizza (spicy gulf shrimp with caramelized leeks and tomato sauce), the “Red Sox” pizza (caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, sweet sausage, mozzarella, tomato sauce and mustard aioli) and the calamari pizza (crispy calamari, tomato sauce, arugula, hot peppers and lemon aioli).

The staff is always very attentive and friendly, and the service timely. Our server brought over focaccia bread topped with carmelized onions, with a side dish of various types of olives sitting in olive oil for dipping. When I asked if the bread had any nuts, he assured me that it did not; he seemed very well-versed in the restaurant’s allergy-friendliness, going on to tell me that they are very aware of the rising prevalence of food allergies and have even made their pesto nut-free, calling it “basil aioli” instead.

When we ordered the pizza—half “Portobello” (portobello mushrooms, wild mushroom purée, roasted red onions, fontina cheese and truffle oil) and half “Fig & Prosciutto” (crisp rosemary crust with fig and balsamic jam, prosciutto & gorgonzola cheese)—and I asked him about again about nuts, he said there were no nuts in the pizzas but would make sure to inform the kitchen so they would be aware. After eating, I had no allergy incidents to report.

The large pizzas are huge—served on a flipped-over baking tray, they hang over the sides. The crust is really thin and crispy, allowing the toppings to take center stage.

Deliciousness.

The prosciutto and fig is one of my favorite pizzas, not just from Figs but from anywhere. Big chunks of sweet fig jam are balanced out by thin, salty slices of prosciutto, scattered with green onions. Though the patches of gorgonzola lend another salty layer to the slice, the balance definitely still falls on the sweet side. The subtle drizzle of balsamic really rounds out the flavors and ties it together nicely. It may be slightly too sweet for some, but to my taste buds, it’s perfect.

The portobello pizza is another favorite. Despite the fact that the mushrooms are the most represented ingredient, the standout flavor is really the truffle oil, lending a buttery overtone to the otherwise earthy pizza. The mushroom flavor is not at all overpowering—the portobello slices are roasted or perhaps even carmelized and are considerably spaced out, and the wild mushroom purée seems to be mixed with the fontina cheese and baked into the pizza itself.

[Sources also tell me that the bread pudding with drizzled caramel is amazing…  and by sources I mean my memory.]

We each had a large slice of both pizzas and were too full to attempt another one, leaving us each with another two slices to take home. After the large pizza and a glass of wine or beer each, we each paid $20 after tip. Not too shabby!

All in all, a delicious, relatively economical, reliable, allergy-friendly spot. They also do take out! If you find yourself in or around Charlestown, definitely stop by.

RATINGS

  • Food: 8
  • Presentation: 7
  • Menu: 8
  • Service: 8
  • Ambiance: 7
  • Allergy-friendliness: 7.5
  • Cost: $-$$ ($.5?)

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

THE DEETS

Figs
67 Main Street
Charlestown, MA 02129-3738
(617) 242-2229

RoliRoti Porchetta Sandwich: Yes, It’s That Good

29 May

Last Thursday was one of those days so beautifully sunny that it’s actually painful to go back into the office after picking up lunch. Especially because it was a Thursday, when the farmers’ market transforms the Ferry Building into even more of a food paradise than it usually is. I could just wander around the tents all afternoon, sampling food and enjoying the sun… working next to the Ferry Building is a foodie’s paradise, but so financially and calorically dangerous!

Beautiful day!

I decided to try the RoliRoti truck, whose porchetta sandwich I have been longing to try. It regularly gets rave reviews, including a spot on the Men’s Health magazine list of the Top 10 Best Street Eats in America and 7×7 magazine’s 100 Things to Try Before You Die (2010 list).

The only reason I was able to feasibly get a RoliRoti porchetta sandwich on my lunch break was because I went at 1:45 PM—otherwise the line is up to 45 minutes long.

[Side note: I came across a 7×7 interview with the owner of RoliRoti, Thomas Odermatt, asking for his comments about the legendary line. One of his more notable responses was, “People are happy to stay in line in SF. We are relaxed about lines, people don’t regard lines negatively. They regard them more as a necessity, versus in New York, it’s a turn off. You don’t wait in lines in New York. On the West Coast we are very orderly and passionate. I don’t know why people are more passionate about it, but I would literally call it a passion about lines. They know where the lines are, it’s good food.” I have to agree with him—people in San Francisco seem to almost seek out the lines because it’s validation of the quality of the food, and usually wait patiently. Case in point: Off the Grid.]

Fortunately for me, I only had to wait less than five minutes. Though the rotisserie chickens looked and smelled so wonderfully tempting, I had to stick to my original mission.

Love how they put the rosemary roasted potatoes below the chicken to catch all its rotisserie goodness...

When I got to the front of the line and asked what the porchetta sandwich was, the man behind the counter told me it was pork loin wrapped in pork belly, stuffed with herbs and roasted. It’s then sliced and put between pieces of French loaf, with some arugula.

When I asked about nuts, he very confidently said, “no,” and I didn’t have any problems after eating it. But I would have felt much better had I known the exact ingredients of the herbs and spices, not to mention where the bread was from. This is an even more important reason to go on off-peak hours—you can spend a little more time asking about allergens without holding up the line.

The sandwich, which was $8.50, was worth every good word written about it. It was packed with so much flavor, thanks to the crispy pork belly skin layered into the sandwich. It had just enough salt to have that delicious, sea-salt-esque flavor, but not enough to be overwhelmingly salty. The spice mix rubbed into the skin was impeccable… If you love eating the fatty, crispy, salty skin of a roast chicken, you would be in heaven (as I was). The pork was really tender, and there was just enough of it to be satisfying but not too much to make the sandwich difficult to eat.

I was torn between wanting some kind of chutney, mustard or sauce on there, but not wanting to distract from the amazing flavor of the pork. It really was that simple—pork, arugula, bread. But it punched far above its weight.

Legendary.

I would gladly wait 45 minutes for that sandwich again!

Here’s a fun bonus: Someone made a video of RoliRoti making the porchetta! Check it out:

 

RATINGS

  • Food: 9
  • Presentation: 6
  • Menu: 5 (just roasted chicken or porchetta sandwich, plus some rosemary potatoes)
  • Service: 8
  • Ambiance: not sure how to rate a food truck on this!
  • Allergy-friendliness: 6
  • Cost: $

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

THE DEETS

Ferry Building Farmers’ Market (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays)
San Francisco, CA 94111
(510) 780-0300