I Eat All the Pasta So You Don’t Have To: Carmelina’s North End

YOU’VE BEEN WARNED – this is very ranty. Hey, it’s my blog!

I had high hopes going into my dining experience at Carmelina’s in the North End. It’s one of the better reviewed places on the main drag in the North End and came highly recommended by two of my favorite people in Boston (and the world), Katie and Josh. Moreover, the Beyonce to Katie and my’s Michelle and Kelly (despite the fact that she hates Beyonce) was in town and the dinner promised to be a fun gastronomic adventure.

This lil lady in the middle! Of course she's in the middle. She's our Beyonce.

This lil lady in the middle! Of course she’s in the middle. She’s our Beyonce.

Our first hint that something was amiss at the restaurant was when we took a look at the special note in the menu…

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…I mean, okay, you’re a fancy restaurant and that’s fine, but just a little bit sassy, no? Of particular Sasquatch note, in my humble opinion:

  • “Please refrain from asking us to add or delete any item from a dish.” Why? According to your previous little sassy blurb you are carefully and conscientiously preparing each and every dish. Is it really so difficult to refrain from putting peanuts into mine if that’s my dietary preference?
  • “We do not accept credit cards for charges under $20, cash only.” REALLY?! Come on, people. This isn’t a little taverna in Greece run by somebody’s grandma. This is a major, high class restaurant in Boston. If I can use a credit card to pay for a 75 cent stick of gum at CVS, are you really telling me I can’t use a credit card for something that’s $19?

Anyway, as I said, that’s just fine. We were shown to our table and after a nice long wait (enough time for us to select the wine and our dishes and do the whole, “awkwardly making small talk while we wait for the waiter to finally come around” dance), the waiter swung by our table and hurriedly took our orders, assuring us bread would be on the way. I’m not going to string you along, gentle readers – the bread was not, in fact, on the way.

That was the theme of the night – we received minimal to zero service at our table, despite the fact that every other table around us did. We asked for the bread literally five times, each time being told it was on the way/in the oven/just a minute. About ten minutes after we got our meals (well, three of us did), the bread finally arrived… strangely enough, not piping hot and fresh from the oven, but lukewarm at best. Strange also is that every other table around us, most of which were seated after us, received bread almost immediately after sitting down.

Of course, someone’s dinner at our table arrived about 15 minutes after everyone else’s did. If you read the sassafras message from their menu, that is only to be expected,  capice? But you have to admit — 15 minutes (more than enough time for everyone else to finish their meal) is a bit much, especially considering she ordered the same thing someone else at the table did.

The icing on the cake was that at no point did anyone come around to refill our water or ask if we needed anything (which we did). After begging them for our check (to be fair to them, they did take the late meal off the check), the coup de grace was finding out they can only split the check on two cards – which apparently isn’t even true, as by that point we engaged in a conversation with the manager about our dissatisfaction and he told us that we were lying and could split the check on three cards (perhaps tell your staff that…?).

I was, most of all, SHOCKED by how they treated our concerns. They were rude and dismissive, stating that it was busy. I understand that, but if you cannot handle that amount of clientele, don’t seat that amount.  I was so shocked when, after the manager listened to our concerns, we could see him and his staff LOUDLY complaining about us and then he just threw the check back to us without another word. I didn’t want a gift certificate or something, but at least a polite if insincere, “I’m so sorry for your experience and I hope we can see you soon” would be normal human behavior – particularly when you are paying $16+ per entree, not to mention alcohol and extras.

Needless to say, I shan’t be dining here again. I took my complaint to Twitter and the Executive Chef Damien engaged in some back-and-forth with me, but never followed up with an email as he promised. Luckily for me, there are about fifteen thousand other places that serve exactly the same food. The hunt continues!

Thankfully, we got a lobster tail at Mike’s after, and all was right in the world.

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I Eat All the Pasta So You Don’t Have To: Lucia Ristorante vs Bottega Fiorentina

I happen to be a gigantic fan of Italian food, and in case you haven’t heard, Boston happens to have a bunch of Italian restaurants. HOW PERFECT! Recognizing that everyone I know has a different favorite joint, I decided to start a series where I go to all the different top-recommended-by-friends restaurants and give them a go. Hence, I Eat All The Pasta So You Don’t Have To. In related news, I’ll also be starting a series where I document my pasta-weight gain.

I decided to shake it up a little and compare and contrast a higher-end Italian restaurant in the North End and a fast-food joint down in Coolidge Corner – I know, I am benevolent and kind. Which one will I like more?! Read and find out, hello.

NORTH END: Surprisingly, it took me three restaurants to make it to Boston’s famed “Little Italy:” the North End. According to my very intense (Wikipedia) research, it is the oldest continually inhabited neighborhood in Boston, with residents (including Mr. Revere) since the 1630s (you’re only 23 years too late, suckers! Virginia was up and thrivin’ by that point! HaHAAA). Most importantly, Italian immigrants made this area their stomping ground, which means you can’t swing a dead cat now without hitting an Italian place there.

With a plethora of options to pick from, I went with the recommendation of a good friend of mine and joined them at Lucia’s Ristorante, on the main drag of Hanover Street.

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I waffled over the massive pasta selection (food pun!) but ended up springing for the Tortellini Quattro Formaggio, a whole $2 more than the wallet friendly linguine with marina. YOLO amirite?

However, I forgot that every time I get a pasta sauce that is not tomato based I can only eat about two pieces before I get overwhelmed. The $20 price tag (including tax and tip) was a bit overwhelming, but I can stretch that sucker to about two or three meals so I’m counting it as a WIN.

Most importantly, we happened to be in the neighborhood during the Feast of St. Anthony, one of the major celebrations in the North End, and an entire brass marching band came to the bar. After playing us a tune, the manager bought them all a beer, and I got to bang on someone’s drum. Rrrr.

Also, we hit up the infamous Mike’s Pastry and I got to follow dinner with entertainment in the form of my good friend (and former boss) smearing a lobster tail all over her face, to the chagrin and disgust of nearby French tourists. Overall, it was a night in which everyone won. Except maybe the French.

COOLIDGE CORNER: A few nights later, I arranged to meet up with a friend at a little corner kinda-fast food pasta place called Bottega Fiorentina. This is my idea of paradise: delicious, simple Italian that comes up quickly. No fuss, no muss. Plus, on Wednesdays and Sundays a penne dish is only $5. Me like.

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This price tag was definitely a friendlier than Lucias, although there is something to be said about how much fun it is to go to a nice restaurant and enjoy a meal (to be honest, I could have made that at home for about 80 cents). Verdict: if I am ever in the area and in need of dinner, it’s definitely happening, but any place where I can bang someone’s drum is a-okay in my book!

The moral of the story is, I got to eat two delicious Italian meals in one week (it’s okay, guys, pasta is completely healthy. In fact, I think it’s in the same food group as kale). So K10: two points. The French: still at zero.

My Weekend at Home

I recently spent a weekend at what I secretly consider to be my “home” in Boston. Yes, I have my own home (both the one I physically live in now and the one my parents inhabit), but we all have those places that we consider to be our comfortable little oases that allow us to escape from real life for a bit. I absolutely consider my house in Virginia to be one of those oases, and I recently bumped up the house of my good friends here to be another.

This will probably surprise them since I haven’t told them how much I adore being at their house, but it is the perfect mix of physical comfort and emotional support for me (both the house and the people within it). When I first arrived to Boston, this was the house that I slept in for my initial three weeks. And it is a wonderful place to start: gorgeous, sun-drenched apartment with a balcony and all the comforts of home (including CABLE! A rarity for twenty-somethings). I loved coming back to the serenity of their home, talking with them about my day and sitting down in front of the TV to watch Jeopardy. It immediately felt comfortable, and comforting to someone in the turmoil of a transition. I am exceptionally fortunate to have two wonderful friends of mine living there.

Alas, it is apparently not really acceptable for someone not involved in the relationship to live with a married couple. Even though we make an exceptional team. And so I reluctantly moved to a sublet in August (and had a meltdown a few days later in the middle of Boston Common, partially due to leaving my paradise), and then to my leased apartment in September. But due to a fortuitous series of circumstances, I found myself back at my little slice of heaven with two of my favorite people for the weekend sandwiched in between my August and September place. It was a bit of a stayvacation: I enjoyed a delicious meal of beef bourguignon, indulged in an IKEA shopping trip with Katie, and treated my hosts to a wine and cheese party. (This was entirely done because I decided I wanted to be fancy and have a wine and cheese party a la the incomparable Mo at Mocadeaux, and they were the only friends I could think of who would indulge me. And have cheese knives. That I gave them for their wedding.)

Not to brag, but this is why you should come visit me.

Not to brag, but this is why you should come visit me.

And so on that Sunday I once again packed up my belongings to move to a new house, away from my “home.” Luckily, I’m less than ten minutes walking away from my oasis. You can bet I will be there often to enjoy the calm and the company of my favorites.

It almost looks like they are toasting their concocting an evil plan, does it not?

It almost looks like they are toasting their concocting an evil plan, does it not?

I Eat All the Pasta So You Don’t Have To: Blackjack Pasta Bar

I happen to be a gigantic fan of Italian food, and in case you haven’t heard, Boston happens to have a bunch of Italian restaurants. HOW PERFECT! Recognizing that everyone I know has a different favorite joint, I decided to start a series where I go to all the different top-recommended-by-friends restaurants and give them a go. Hence, I Eat All The Pasta So You Don’t Have To. In related news, I’ll also be starting a series where I document my pasta-weight gain.

After a bit of a lackluster start in my genius-inspired Italian food tour of Boston, I was eager to find a restaurant worthy of the K10 Stamp of Approval. Luckily, I went to the right source: two of my former student staff members from London, who are current/recent grads of my university employer and therefore have great restaurant selections exactly in my price range; in this case, Blackjack Pasta Bar by Fenway.

These guys.

These guys.

THE K10 LOWDOWN: I was a little surprised to see that it wasn’t really a restaurant, but more of a take-out/delivery place with a few tables. For that, the menu is SUPER extensive, with an excellent option to make your own pasta dish (pick a pasta, sauce, topping), all for the low, low price of $10. Throw in a drink and it was a wallet-friendly $12. I did my usual gamble and ordered the “spicy tomato” sauce (I LOVE spicy food, and whenever I go anywhere that offers it, I say very seriously to the waiter, “I want a spice level of 6 on a level of 5. I’m not joking.” 90% of the time it’s only medium hot. Come on people – I CAN HANDLE IT). This time around, it was actually pretty spicy! Hurray for you!

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Throw in the fact that the cashier had a Boston accent, which still tickles me, and I wish that I lived closer so I could patronize this fine establishment more often.

Bonus: Afterwards we wandered around to get ice cream (of course) and walked by Fenway park, where the Sox were playing the Yankees, RIGHT when something exciting happened judging by the cheers, and cheered lustily along. Beantown pride!

They pointed out that in the first picture, there was no food included and this is, after all, a restaurant review. Hence the roll.

They pointed out that in the first picture, there was no food included and this is, after all, a restaurant review. Hence the roll.

I Eat All the Pasta So You Don’t Have To: Greg’s Restaurant

I happen to be a gigantic fan of Italian food, and in case you haven’t heard, Boston happens to have a bunch of Italian restaurants. HOW PERFECT! Recognizing that everyone I know has a different favorite joint, I decided to start a series where I go to all the different top-recommended-by-friends restaurants and give them a go. Hence, I Eat All The Pasta So You Don’t Have To. In related news, I’ll also be starting a series where I document my pasta-weight gain.

I could not be prouder of myself than when I came up with this genius plan. I get to eat a ton of Italian food while hanging out with friends, all in the name of research and writing?! You guys, I am so freakin’ smart I blow my own mind.

I kicked off my explorations with a visit to the favored place of Lauren, aka college roomie, aka bff, aka lady whose apartment lease I took over. Called Greg’s (Lauren: “I know… not very Italian), the only thing she told me was, “It’s wonderful and cheap and the waitress is funny.” My response: “I’m so there it’s insane.”

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THE K10 LOWDOWN: For what the menu offers (pretty standard steak and Italian fare), the decor of the restaurant (fairly chintzy checkered tablecloths), and the prices (my meal was $15 with tip), I shouldn’t be surprised that I wasn’t overly impressed. They brought out free bread which is my standard for determining if I like a place or not, and salad came with the meal, which was nice. But my cheese ravioli was pretty drenched in the meat sauce and overall didn’t have a particularly inspiring flavor. Luckily the serving was so big that Mama has lunch tomorrow. YESSSS.

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Also, we got ice cream at JP Licks afterwards, which was so good that I’m uncomfortably full now.

So, overall impression on Greg’s  — you could take me back and I wouldn’t be kicking and screaming, but there’s gotta be better out there. Onward!

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