Friday, July 31, 2009

Antico Forno: A Gem Off the Main Path

The North End Scene magazine (Summer 2009) contains a restaurant review I wrote about Antico Forno. You can pick up a copy in the North End and other select areas in Boston. I am also posting the review here, though without the beautiful photography you will find in the magazine. The review here is slightly different from the one that was published, mostly minor changes of style.

Hanover Street is likely the most frequently traveled street in the North End and thus a popular destination for diners. But don’t neglect the many other streets in the North End which also offer some intriguing and delicious dining destinations. For example, I suggest you take a stroll down Salem Street and stop at Antico Forno.

Antico Forno, which means “ancient oven” in Italian, has recently undergone a significant renovation and expansion, making it an even better restaurant than before. It has almost doubled in size and is very tastefully decorated with a tile floor, stone archways, and a marble topped bar. Though everything seems new, there is still a rustic nature to the décor. It has a casual ambiance and the large windows at the front let you look out onto Salem Street, to people watch.

Carla Agrippino Gomes, the owner of this restaurant, also owns another local restaurant, Terramia, which is located only a short distance away. I found Carla to be very personable and down-to-earth, a woman who loves rustic Italian fare. She is also a very dedicated and hard worker, often found toiling away at her restaurants. Carla clearly possesses the driving passion I seek in restaurant owners and chefs.

It is no surprise that as Carla loves rustic fare, her restaurant specializes in such. Chef Salvatore Gaglio has created an intriguing menu of rustic favorites to tantalize your taste buds. The centerpiece of the kitchen is a brick oven which is used to cook or finish many of their dishes. Based on everything I had to eat, the brick oven makes a positive impact upon the cuisine.

Prior to ordering your dinner, you might want to consider something to drink such as wine. Their wine list has about thirty selections with plenty of bottles priced in the $30s, making the list very affordable. You can also purchase a glass of house wine for only $7. The wine selections are primarily from Italy and California and I was pleased to find one of my favorite Chiantis on their list, the 2005 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico.

The prices on their food menu are reasonable, especially considering the large size of their portions. For dinner, Appetizers and Salads average about $11, Pizzas average about $14 from $11.50-$16, Primi average about $17, and Secondi average about $20. Lunch prices are even less expensive. The menu has a diverse selection of dishes, and everyone should be able to find something they will enjoy.

As I waited for our first course, my nose was tantalized by the smell of fresh baked bread that wafted through the restaurant. Over the course of the evening, as each dish was delivered to the table, I was very impressed with the food. First, the ingredients were all very fresh, from their vegetables to their seafood. Second, portions were large but be assured that they are not trying to cover up mediocre taste by offering ample portions. Third, the food is quite delicious, with interesting sauces that enhance the dishes rather than smother them.

For appetizers, try the Calamari Fritti ($13), semolina crusted fried calamari with mixed greens and topped by a citrus honey vinegrette. The calamari is bought fresh each day and each lightly battered ring was small and very tender. The vinegrette was subtle, adding a touch of sweetness to the calamari. This was one of the better fried calamari dishes I have ever had. I would also recommend the Cozzi Piccanti ($11), sauteed mussels in a spicy plum tomato sauce with roasted garlic. The pile of tender mussels sat in a very spicy sauce that was more like a broth than a traditional tomato sauce. Dip some bread into the broth once you are done with the mussels and enjoy.

The Focaccino Con Caprio ($11), one of their signature dishes, is a salad with fresh mixed greens, creamy goat cheese, fresh cherry tomatoes and grilled zucchini topped by a mild dressing. But it also has slices of an exceptional, flat aromatic bread. It was warm, soft, and flavorful with just the right combination of herbs and spices. The bread was so delicious we had to order more of it.

I was also surprised and impressed by the Involtini di Melanzane ($11), rolled eggplant stuffed with ricotta cheese and basil, baked in their brick oven with a plum tomato sauce and parmigiano cheese. My dining companions and I were not real fans of eggplant, but we all enjoyed this dish. The tender eggplant was sliced thin and the plentiful cheese and tasty red sauce contributed to this dish’s excellent flavor. When a chef can make me enjoy a food I usually dislike, then I consider that chef to be very talented.

Based on the superb flatbread, I was excited to try their pizzas, expecting them to be equally as delicious and I was not disappointed. You can order a simple Margherita pizza or try one of their more creative options. For example, the Amalfitana ($14) has smoked mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and arugula. The crust was thin and perfectly baked, a nice combination of softness and crispness. The smoked mozzarella added an earthy element to the pizza. I would come here just for the pizza.

When you move onto the Primi, you will find some interesting and delectable pasta dishes. I would suggest the Rigatoni Salsiccia E Ricotta ($17), homemade rigatoni pasta with Italian sausage and sweet onions in a plum tomato sauce and topped with ricotta cheese. The rigatoni were quite large and cooked to a nice al dente. The sausage slices had a meaty, sweet flavor and the red sauce was also very good, not too heavy. The Risotto del Giorno had porcini mushrooms and asparagus tips and the rice was cooked perfectly. The dish was flavorful with an interesting blend of spices and herbs.

The Secondi are equally as compelling. The Pollo Arrosto ($18), another signature dish, is a brick oven roasted chicken with garlic and herbs, accompanied by roasted potatoes and string beans. The half chicken had a delightful crispy skin and plenty of flavorful meat. The Pesce Spada Alla Griglia ($22) is a wood grilled swordfish with fresh mixed greens, pickled red onions and orange citrus sauce. The thin slice of swordfish was moist and flaky, with a subtle sauce adding a touch of citrus and sweetness to the fish. The Chef is definitely not heavy-handed with his sauces.

Though you only have two options for dessert, Tiramisu and Cannoli, both are highly recommended. The tiramisu is quite large, and tastes creamy and light with a rich chocolate flavor. As they do not use alcohol in their tiramisu, it remains light and thus is a nice ending after your ample dinner. The Cannoli also contains a rich but light and creamy filling in their fresh, crunchy shell.

Service was excellent and our waiter, Ovi, took good care of all our needs. He has worked at Antico Forno for over six years and is obviously a professional. I heartily recommend Antico Forno as a restaurant for reasonably priced, delicious and amply portioned plates of rustic Italian fare.

Antico Forno
93 Salem St.
North End, Boston,
Phone: 617-723-6733

Antico Forno on Urbanspoon


adele said...

Hmm. I think you may have drawn the best assignment of the summer issue. ;)

Richard Auffrey said...

I think Umbria sounded very good too, especially for a carnivore like me. :)