>> Friday, October 26, 2012
Ask anyone to name the best chefs in Boston, and undoubted you'll hear Barbara Lynch's name in the mix. After all, this "rags-to-riches" local Bostonian female chef has climbed through so much to get to where she is today.
Her achievements are numerous. She and her restaurants have won multiple James Beard Awards over the years. Her highest-end restaurant, Menton is the first (and only) restaurant in Boston to receive the prestigious Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux award. No. 9 Park her original flagship restaurant, is still is one of the most highly regarded restaurants in Boston today.
But no one eats at these restaurants on a daily basis. These are places that are reserved from special occasions, celebrations, and expense account dinners.
That's the beauty of Sportello, Chef Lynch's neighborhood answer for the local Bostonian looking for excellent, Italian food in a casual yet trendy atmosphere.
When given the opportunity to build something in a converted warehouse in the Fort Point neighborhood, Barbara Lynch looked at Boston and thought about what was missing.
She sought to build "the next level of fine dining" that Boston hadn't seen with the opening of Menton. She thought Boston could use some really good drinks, and built up Drink in the adjacent space.
Finally, she reminisced about the days when she was a child, and her mom used to take her to Woolworth's for a simple grilled cheese and a pie.
"The last thing is a cool sort of counter. . . . grab and go but sleek and stylish with my food."
That's exactly what Sportello is.
Two U-shaped counters essentially take up the entire dining area. There are a couple tables, but most of the seating consists of bar stools, many of which have views of the semi-open kitchen.
A lot of the prep work is done downstairs in the large kitchen that's shared with Chef Lynch's other restaurants (Menton and Drink are also in the immediate vicinity). However, you can still watch some of the cooking from your bar stool seat.
Bryan and I visited Sportello after watching the Red Bull Diving Competition at Fan Pier in Boston's waterfront area. Crazy divers jump off the top of the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) building, which is many, many stories high. Admittedly, it may seem like nothing compared to jumping from the edge of space, but it was still pretty awe-inspiring to watch.
Because it was August when we went, we sampled the fresh, seasonal ingredients in the Heirloom Tomato Salad ($12), which was served simply with crumbled pecorino, fresh basil, and balsamic vinegar "dots". If the ingredients are top notch, you can't really go wrong with this salad, and this one was great.
All of their pastas are homemade, and you can order any pasta as a half size appetizer portion for half the price. We decided to order two half-sized pastas as starters and share one entree. Our first pasta was a seasonal offering: Pappardelle with Tuna Belly, San Marzano Tomatoes, and Eggplant. We both loved the perfect al dente texture of these wide ribbon-like noodles.
The Tagliatelle Bolognese, on the other hand, is a staple menu item that stays on all year long. We both liked it a lot, and would definitely be happy to order it again. I probably preferred the bolognese to the tuna belly pasta, though both were good.
Entrees vary a lot depending on the season, but there's always a "Market Fish" on the menu. In late summer when we went, we enjoyed a lovely grilled white fish which was served with grilled Japanese eggplant, summer squash, and an edamame puree.
I did want to mention that I loved the wine we got, a little find from a young winemaker in Sicily. We learned about this wine, Occhipinti Il Frappato Sicilia 2010, because we just happened to be sitting right next to a person from Central Bottle, who instantly recognized the wine we got (they sell this wine at Central Bottle as well).
True to Chef Lynch's promise, Sportello offers the opportunity for one to come and just "grab and go." You can walk up to a bakery/cafe counter inside the restaurant and order sandwiches or bakery items to take away.
Dessert is sort of a fun affair because you can either order off of the normal dessert menu or walk over to the counter and pick out whatever bakery items you might want for dessert.
Bryan and I decided to try both (!!). We ordered the Blueberry Cheesecake off of the normal menu, which was great. I especially loved those fresh, Maine blueberries.
We also got a Kit Kat Cupcake from the bakery, which, honestly, I thought was pretty average. The cupcake was a tad dry and not nearly as interesting as I had hoped.
In general, we both thought Sportello offered high quality food and wine in a fun, casual, yet sleek environment. Pastas were especially tasty, and I really loved the wine.
It's still a bit of a trek from Cambridge, and not quite "destination-worthy" for us to make the trip out to Fort Point just to eat at Sportello. We have plenty of excellent restaurants close to home. However, if we're in the neighborhood (or, when my company moves there next year), I will happily stop by often, either to try their lunch take-away sandwiches or for the excellent pasta dishes.
As a cool side note, Sportello is currently offering a three course Sunday meal, including all-you-can-eat pasta, for $45. Sounds awesome yet dangerous at the same time!
348 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02210