The North End has long been the siren call to my craving for all things Italian. But somewhere in the last few years, when I stopped working in Boston, I discovered it’s become very hard to just pop by the neighborhood for something yummy at a place like Lucia’s or Artu.
Every parking space is either valet or residents-only to the post-6pm dinner crowd. The inexpensive lots are a good walk down the street. And I hate paying for parking lots; it cuts down on my dessert budget. I hate to say it, but I just don’t go unless I’m taking the T and in town for the day. Which isn’t that often anymore. What to do?
That’s where Lucia’s in Winchester comes in. Located on the commuter rail stop in Winchester, it also enjoys plenty of street parking. Both restaurants were launched by Donato Frattaroli. Born in Sulomona, Abruzzo in Italy, Frattaroli and his family immigrated to America when he was 14. He and his brothers opened Lucia Ristorante on Hanover Street in 1977.
When that proved successful, he decided to open a suburban location, in Winchester, in 1986. As he put it, he saw an opportunity to bring his authentic cooking style to an area that had few authentic options for Italian food that went beyond the spaghetti and meatball dishes.
In 1989, he and his brother, Filippo, opened the Via Veneto Ristorante on Causeway Street in Boston (now Filippo’s Ristorante), and in the 1990s Donato also launched Artú Rosticceria & Trattoria, Artù Ristorante and Artù Catering in Boston.
This summer, Frattaroli turns back to the ‘burbs location to freshen up the menu.
The Winchester restaurant has been totally remodeled, although the ceiling frescos remain, for now. Donato has wondered if the frescos seem too old-fashioned for what he’s trying to present with his revamped menu. “We don’t want to be seen as ‘old.’ We are ‘experienced,’” said Donato. Be sure to weigh in on the debate next time you dine there.
Donato’s son Donato Jr. was a key voice in nudging the Winchester menu for the first time in 25 years. They plan to keep the Winchester branch’s traditional recipes beloved by regular customers, and also introduce some meatier dishes inspired by their Abruzzi roots, as well as lighter seafood items based on their seaside trips. Donato Senior is especially proud of his addition of fine imported accents, such as sun dried tomatoes , artichokes, cheeses and premium olive oils from various regions of Italy. It’s all part of trying to expand his customer’s palates, said Donato Sr.
“We’re not a red sauce kind of place,” said Frattaroli. “We use a lighter sauce, more like what we eat when visiting family in Italy. We’re using hearty proteins, such as lamb and beef.” I want to showcase regional food based on where my family is from.”
I recently was invited to dine family-style recently to sample some items from the new menu, as well as dishes they may run as specials. All of the food was full of great flavors, with homemade pasta, fresh-off-the-boat seafood; I truly felt like I was at a family Sunday dinner, as Donato told us stories about the food, his family, restaurant gossip, and future culinary plans.
Here is the menu that I experienced:
- Three kinds of brushcette, new on the new menu: Artichoke Puree, Broccoli di Rapi and Roasted Garlic, and Wild Mushroom *on the new menu
- Fried Duxbury Oysters, with Young Peach, and Roasted Garlic Aioli, served in the shell.
- Native Seafood Parfait of Razor Clams, Lobster, Shrimp, Calamari, Mussels and Pickled Vegetables
- Fennel Pollen-dusted Tuna Crudo, toasted Almonds, EVOO and Lemon.
- Fried Softshell Crab, Hot-house Heirloom Tomato Salad, Peperoncino Mascarpone.
- Seafood Risotto *on the new menu
- Pasta Alla Norma (Fresh Tomato Sauce, Roasted Eggplant, Ricotta Salata) *on the new menu
- Butter-poached Seared Salmon, Italian White Bean Salad, and Pesto Oil
- Oven-roasted Bone-In Pork Tenderloin Agrodolce with Cacciatore Vegetables. *on the new menu
Other new menu items will include: shrimp scampi made with Trebbiano wine and fresh herbs; mussels in cartoccia roasted in parchment paper; baby beet saad with arugula and ricotta salata; baby spinach salad with pears, candied walnuts and gorgonzola and balsamic vinaigrette; Lobster and saffron ravioli with sautéed shrimp in a tomato cream sauce; pappardelle Bolognese; house-made fusilli pasta with foraged mushrooms, a touch of cream and white truffle oil; veal chop stuffed with spinach, prosciutto, fontina, seasoned bread crumbs, and braised seasonal greens; rack of lamb with broccoli di rabe and cannellini beans; skewers of shrimp, lamb or scallops in their garlic butter with seasonal veggies.
- Go on Fridays and experience the velvet-voiced Frank Zarba singing Italian love songs, starting at 7 p.m.
- Look for the addition of community roundtables where diners can drop in and meet new friends and old.
- Watch Lucia North End for its 35th anniversary celebration in mid-July.
13 Mt. Vernon St.