…Italian specialties from Tuscany to Rome
Stroll on over to Hanover Street in Boston’s North End, stop and toss a coin in either direction. Chances are you will see the coin land near a local Italian restaurant worthwhile to check out. You can linger reading the reviews, almost every length of this street of tastiness has an establishment with 4 out of 5 stars. Ask yourself what is that delectable aroma indicative of northern Italian cuisine, the answer to which might/ought/hopefully will be…
Florentine Café (617-227-1777, www.cafeflorentine.com)
Established just after Prohibition, the Florentine Café (located at the corner of Hanover and Prince Streets) has an old world charm combined with a culinary selection of Northern and Southern Italy that could rival anything from the old world. For over 70 years this sidewalk café has provided a truly unique outside dining experience, matched only by the delicate pastas and savory meats and cheese combinations its Chefs have become known for.
When you enter from the corner sidewalk, one is almost instantly transported to Italy with frescoes providing a sense of being in Rome, Florence, Milan, or Venice. The frescoes framed by the dark wood paneling provide images of famous Italian landmarks, glassed sidewalk doors extending vertically in European style open the restaurant to sights and sounds of the North End, tables dotting the Cafe’s doorways provide a means to peacefully sit back enjoy a drink, a discussion, and to interact with those passing by.
Having been out walking the Freedom Trail and touring the North End neighborhoods most of our second day, by its end our minds were being peacefully distracted by the aromas entering the neighborhood from the sidewalk cafes such as the Florentine Café. By the whim of a tossed coin and the notion that there appeared to be no readily available review on our tourism web pages, we found ourselves wondering shall we try the Florentine. Believe me; we struck gold with our decision. Though we would have to wait a few minutes before it was proper diner time and could be seated. Word to the wise, come early for a drink at one of the oldest bars in Boston and stay for diner.
Boris was our server this evening as we tucked away into a table just opposite the entry facing out onto Prince Street. The street side table framed by wrought iron bars and planter box with a mix of herbal and flowering plants provided an ambiance as noted reminiscent of dining in Europe. We were out of the main flow of the restaurant and as we were early, had a peaceful setting to truly dine European style. Boris was engaging and we found him charming, from his contributions about the North End (unknown to this long departed native) to his depth of knowledge of the Chef’s culinary skills. This evening was truly destined for sight unseen exploration and wound up being driven purely by the recommendations of our server; definitely consider doing the same if you visit.
We both started with glasses of two white wines, Mary with the Piazzo Piemonte Moscato d’ Asti and I with the Ruffino Veneto Pino Grigio, both of which would serve us well over the course of this Italian escape. To the wine Boris added the Antipasto Carpiccioso, an assortment of cheeses, Prosciutto Di Parma, Sopressata, arugula, tuna fish & gaeta olives. We each had the opportunity to combine the flavors of this Antipasto and experience a delectable introduction to our nightly sojourn to Italia. Boris knew we were in no hurry and that we wanted to experience what the Florentine could provide; this antipasto was a fantastic start. The Prosciutto and Sopressata were thinly sliced, rice paper thin, providing the utmost flavor output to tempt our taste buds. Adding on house made fresh mozzarella or thinly shaved hard crust Parmesan Reggiano, and some arugula for a pepper infusion the antipasto could have made a hardened heart melt.
Our entrées arrived and built on the experience for this evening. I partook of Florentine’s Tubettoni Genovese – Tubettoni pasta tossed in olive oil and garlic, with the addition of clams, shrimp, parsley & half a lobster tail. Served with a spicy tomato sauce this entrée was hearty and filling. Delicious to the last bite, the shell fish was lightly cooked retaining a soft texture. The spicy tomato sauce harkened of a carbonara sauce but a bit more robust in flavor. The infusion of olive oil and garlic truly was the Midas touch to the sauce, adding a rich-velvety texture and a depth of flavor to the overall dish without comparison.
Mary partook of the Pollo Arrosto, a plate of roasted half chicken topped with a Marsala and mushroom reduction platted with a spinach and broccoli rabe mix and seasonal butternut squash. The undertones of this dish including the buttery Marsala sauce, were earthy from the exquisitely prepped velvety mushrooms. The spinach-broccoli rabe countered the Marsala reduction with a vibrant bite to sharpen the palate. The blended butternut squash provided a counter balance between the poultry and greens, providing a means to soften the sharpness of the broccoli rabe and relish the soft undertones of the roasted chicken.
By the end of dinner and knowing the walk ahead of us – through the North End, across the water front, past Faneuil Hall and onto the Financial District- would take us past well known pastry establishments, we knew desert would be selected from one of two North End staples. Mike’s Pastries and Modern Pastries were on the list (and it wound up being both).
Florentine Café mixes the finest meats, seafood traditions of Boston, old world cut pastas, and sauces that hold bring the old world flavors together, and provides an atmosphere that transport you back to Italia. Florentine welcomes you back any time you happen to fall upon the famous intersection of Prince and Hanover streets in the North End. It provides an opportunity to dine, not eat, be seen and perhaps heard in the heart of Little Italy. Find yourself here, grab a bottle or two, notify your waiter your there to dine and let the staff lead you on a sojourn into Old World style and tastes in this history rich neighborhood of Boston.