Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Gennaro's 5 North Square, North End, Boston

I love the North End.  I love the cobbled streets. I love hearing the snippets of conversation in Italian as I weave through the tourists.  I love the restaurant managers who stand on the streets and try to entice the passerby into their restaurant.  It is a jovial atmosphere, one of indulgence and excitement.  It is quintessential, and it is wonderful.  However, with the seemingly hundreds of restaurants lining the streets, how do you choose which to go to?

The thing about the North End, is that though there are many many options to pick from for sustenance, there is little variation.  Sure, there are stand outs, Mare, for example does an incredible job on Italian style seafood, as does Neptune Oyster.  The Waterfront bar does a great job with pub grub and a great sports atmosphere, and Giacomo's delivers consistently good food, reasonable prices and great staff.  However, for the most part, the restaurants offer the same fare- red sauce Italian, dishes loaded with cheese and butter (not that I have a problem with either), and heaping portions of pasta.  Much of the imagination seems to be lost, and in it's place, a "feed the masses" approach has been taken on.  The dishes are stereotypical, they cater to the tourists who want "real Italian food", and therefore serve up Chicken Parmesan by the platter.  

Friday evening a friend suggested that we dine at Gennaro's 5 North Square Restaurant, located in my favorite part of the North End.  The North Square is a beautiful area, removed from the hub bub of Hanover Street, where the streets are cobbled, the buildings quaint, and the smell of flowers always seems to be in the air.  I transport back to Rome every time I walk through the area.  Having never dined at Gennaro's I was excited to check it out.  

I relished the North End that evening, skimming through Hanover street in my flats, maneuvering past the groups of Boston visitors, pausing at the corner by Gennaro's to change into heels- a practice I engage in far too often to protect against sprained ankles on those lovely streets I admire so much.  I was greeted by the restaurant manager outside the address, and he went through the obligatory sales pitch to have me dine there, as he found that my plans led me to his establishment already, he waved me to the bar to wait as my friend had not yet arrived.  Wait I did.  I waited to be greeted by the bar tender who appeared to be chatting with friends, I waited for the wine menu (still chatting), I waited for my order to be taken (a broken bottle the culprit this time), I waited for my glass of wine (more chatting), and then I waited to pay my bill (reason for this delay unknown).  Finally though, I had my wine, my bill was paid, and we were seated at our table, menus in front of us.  

We chose to start with an order of Calamari, the squid fried golden brown with slices of banana peppers in the mix.  The Calamari were served hot and crispy a fair amount of breading to make them really tasty, but not nearly enough of those fried, spicy banana peppers for my liking.  They were served with two dipping sauces, a standard Marinara, and, bunking tradition, a sweet chili pepper sauce.  That second sauce left me a bit perplexed.  Calamari is such a delicious vehicle for flavors, it seemed odd that this wholly Italian restaurant, un touched by "fusion" cuisine, would add in a sauce that tasted more Thai than anything.  It was ok, but nothing to write home about.  Additionally, the Marinara was served cold, which was a strange sensation with the hot Calamari.

I settled on the rolled stuffed eggplant as my main course, described as grilled eggplant, stuffed with ricotta cheese, roasted garlic and spinach, baked with marinara sauce and cheese, and then served with a side of pasta.  A few things, the side of pasta was actually placed below the rolls of eggplant, so it was impossible to ignore (as I had hoped to do) so I indulged in the nicely al dente spaghetti. The Eggplant itself appeared more fried (bread crumb coating) than it did grilled, however the texture was a welcome relief to the soft eggplant and creamy stuffing.  The ricotta, garlic and spinach came together nicely blending their rich, sweet and hearty flavors into a single note which was well accentuated with the acid of the tomato.  

Gennaro's definitely delivered in providing a typical North End experience.  Big portions of food, nicely settled into the red sauce variety, executed soundly.  There isn't anything overly exciting there, but there is that warm, comfortable feeling that you want if you were visit your Italian grandmother's kitchen.  The wait staff was pleasant, even remembering my friend from a previous visit.  They were efficient, and knowledgeable.  Gennaro's is a place that I can add to my list of "would return to, but not in a great hurry" spots in the North End.        


Michelle Collins said...

I haven't been to the North End in way too long. Great review - I'll have to check this place out!

Jen said...

We only go to the North End when we have guests in town because *gasp* I don't like Italian food. Great review, as always.

Kristen said...

well done, especially your descriptions of the north end! I ate here long ago and it wasn't bad, but also wasn't too memorable. It was also before they re-did the place to even have a bar. I'd return to other spots before I'd return here!

Anonymous said...

Hubby and I went here and we were so turned off by this place. We had a gift certificate and presented it to our server at the beginning of the meal and it wasn't until our meal was more than half over did the manager tell us they wouldn't accept it! TOTAL turn off. And the manager basically hid in his office and wouldn't confront us after initially informing us that they wouldn't accept it. The food was completely forgettable and the lack of customer service definitely cemented the fact that we would not return. Ugh.

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