If you’re craving Italian, you have to check out Boston’s “Little Italy”, commonly referred to as the North End.
Last week my boyfriend, paying me a surprise visit, gave me an excuse to explore another great restaurant. I had grown tired of the lifeless pasta & chicken dishes served at most Italian spots, so my goal was to find someplace that offered a tasteful, yet atypical Italian meal, along with a great atmosphere-something not too rowdy, yet not too intimate.
A friend of mine who is an area real estate broker came to my rescue by suggesting Lucca, a contemporary Italian restaurant in the heart of the North End. Lucca turned out to be a fitting solution to my culinary dilemma.
Lucca, named after the Tuscan town famous for its extra virgin olive oil, focuses on serving Northern Italian classics and innovative dishes. Upon arrival, you immediately notice the non-conservative trendy d‚cor complete with stained glass windows and draping ivy, which create a dramatic contrast to the quaint restaurants nearby. The inside of the restaurant continues with this theme, decorated with dark woods, bronze embellishments and Tuscany inspired murals throughout the main dining area.
Interestingly, the Lucca’s sophisticated and romantic atmosphere is a product of the co-owners’ backgrounds. Both were former managers at Mamma Maria’s, one of the North End’s most romantic restaurants, and they have brought many of the same amorous ideals into their new initiative.
As we entered the restaurant, we were greeted by a friendly hostess and quickly ushered to an excellent table near the open glass doors. Since it was a beautiful evening, we enjoyed dinner while watching the locals stroll along the main street. I noticed that there wasn’t a characteristic crowd at Lucca’s, as the clientele ranged from small business dinners to jovial family gatherings. The restaurant’s inviting atmosphere makes it easy to accommodate just about any crowd. You can chat it up around the bar upstairs or go downstairs for a more private setting.
Our server, Jaime, was extremely knowledgeable and friendly. She explained the menu, and helped us select from the wide variety of Italian and American wines offered (starting at $25 per bottle, also sold by the glass). As we waited to order we nibbled on fresh sourdough bread with creamy pesto butter. For starters, I ordered Antipasto (prices vary), which consisted of a Chef’s selection of seafood and vegetables, while my boyfriend ordered the Insalata Verde ($7), a salad tossed in red-wine vinaigrette, with toasted walnuts and juliennes pears. Both of these appetizers were above average yet were nothing compared to our next two taste samplers. The Torta d’Anatra ($10.50), a tart made with rustic duck, spinach and goat cheese, was a fabulous combination of flavorful goat cheese and sweet caramelized onions, and the Lasagna ai Funghi ($9), a warm potato and wild mushroom lasagna topped with imported cheese, was a must-have for any mushroom lover. For our main entrees we chose Bistecca con Risotto di Funghi ($29), seared beef tenderloin with shallot glaze served with a truffled wild mushroom risotto, and Rigatoni alla Cinghiale ($22), a pasta dish with braised wild boar and a sweet and sour tomato ragu. Initially the wild boar rigatoni sounded a bit risky, but it turned out to be one of the most amazing dishes I have had in a while. The contrasting sweet peppers, savory Italian ragu and tender braised meat tasted magnificent, creating a unique dish that anyone who is adventurous should experience.
Overall, Lucca’s spin on Italian food was wonderfully refreshing, the ambience was warm and inviting, and the service was superb. It is definitely a great spot to visit with a group of friends or with a significant other. Lucca serves dinner 7 nights from 5pm until 12:15am, while the bar open until 1 am.
After dinner we opted to skip the desserts offered at Lucca, although I have heard that they are delicious and just as creative as their entrees.
Instead, we decided to explore the neighborhood in search of one of the best Italian desserts, il Canolo. We found two historic Italian bakeries both known for their classic Italian desserts. Mike’s Pastry is known for its wide variety of specialty cakes and fine Italian desserts, serving everything from the traditional ricotta pie to the cannoli. I tried a couple of their signature desserts, tiramisu and the yellow cream cannoli. The tiramisu was fabulous, rivaling some that I have tasted while in Italy. As for the cannoli, although it was also good, I found it a little too sweet for my tastes. We then walked over to another shop that is not as renowned, the Modern-Pastry Shop, which has been in the North End since 1930. This smaller family-owned shop smelled of licorice and was crowded with locals sipping espresso. I worked my way up to the counter to order three different cannolies: vanilla cream, chocolate and butter cream. They were scrumptious, just as creamy as Mike’s, but not as sweet. I am not a huge fan of butter cream, so I can only give my thumbs up to the first two. Both shops are great places to grab a traditional cappuccino and sample some of Italy’s finest cookies, pastries and cakes.
For all of you Italian-lovers out there, I would definitely recommend a visit to the North End. It offers a variety of restaurants and a glimpse at a real Italian neighborhood. To find out more about restaurants, shops and entertainment, visit www.northendweb.com, or if you would like to spend a Saturday exploring you can visit www.cucinare.com, a website that offers historical tours of the colorful market’s and historic restaurants in the North End.