LINGUINE AL FRUTTI DI MARE
Linguine pasta with clams, mussels, calamari and shrimp sautéed in a plum tomato sauce baked in parchment paper $21
The North End is one of our favorite eating neighborhoods, and I write about it frequently on this blog.
However, I've realized that most of the places I've described are more suited for special occasions. The ever-so-quaint-and-charming Mamma Maria (inside of a lovely townhouse overlooking the square) is wonderful for a first date (or even a proposal!). The elegant Prezza is great for a snazzy work dinner or a special celebratory meal. These establishments undoubtedly serve some of the best Italian food in Boston, and you'll pay a pretty penny for the experience.
What about good, solid everyday Italian? The type you can enjoy on a random Friday night without breaking the bank?
Time and time again, Bryan and I have met friends at Antico Forno, a casual, boisterous and friendly restaurant which serves excellent food in a very inviting and kid-friendly environment. The best part? - the surprisingly reasonable prices that come with such high quality food in this prime location.
Sautéed shrimp with smoked mozzarella, fresh cherry tomatoes, topped with fresh arugula $16.50
Antico Forno does a lot of things well, but one that stands out is their authentic brick oven pizza. The crust, which is of medium thickness, has just the right amount of substance when you bite into it. It's charred perfectly on the outside yet has a satisfying "chew" to it. The nice variety of pizza toppings are fun to try and have all been really good.
CARCIOFI E PORCINI
Artichoke hearts, imported Italian porcini mushrooms, fresh homemade mozzarella, fresh cherry tomatoes, finished with white truffle oil
I have always loved the combination of mushrooms with artichoke hearts. Antico Forno steps up their version a notch by using porcini mushrooms and drizzling white truffle oil on top. This pizza reheats beautifully and I definitely enjoyed it a few more times after taking our leftovers home!
Fresh homemade mozzarella, plum tomato sauce and fresh basil drizzled with extra virgin olive oil $13
I really like the Margherita with its simple flavors. It's also a great pizza to order for kids since it's essentially a glorified cheese pizza.
RIGATONI ALLA BOSCAIOLA
Rigatoni pasta sautéed with mushrooms, sweet peas, onions, Italian ham in a plum tomato mascarpone sauce $17
Of course, their pastas are fantastic as well. They offer many homemade pasta dishes (such as the linguini-based ones), as well as those made with dried pasta, which are all cooked perfectly al dente. I especially love the rigatoni all bascaiola (pictured above). The marscapone cheese adds just the right level of creaminess to round out the fragrant tomato sauce. Bryan's favorite is the frutti di mare (pictured at top), which is made with fresh homemade linguini. Generous chunks of fresh mussels, clams, shrimp, and squid are sautéed together in a plum tomato sauce and baked in parchment paper (in the huge brick oven!). The resultant sauce sings of the sweet combination of seafood flavors and fresh tomatoes. It's a real bargain at $21.
CALAMARI FRITTI Semolina crusted fried calamari with mixed greens drizzled with a citrus honey vinegrette $14
The deep fried calamari (squid) was fine - nothing particularly special but it was enjoyable. We liked the generous portion size and the fact that it came with a little side salad (to offset the guilt!).
The second time we went this summer happened to be during Restaurant Week. You know how I feel about Restaurant Week in general, so I was a bit dubious. However, the menu offering looked promising so we decided to take the risk and get one order from the Restaurant Week menu. Everything else came from the regular menu.
The food quality was pretty good, though I'm not sure how much of a "deal" you're actually getting. The first course was a huge arancini, which is sort of like a stuffed, deep-fried risotto ball. This particular one was filled with shrimp, peas, and cheese and slathered with a marinara sauce. It was pretty tasty, though I personally still love the one at Basta Pasta more.
Homemade Fettuccine with Beef Bolognese Ragu
The second course was a tiny portion of bolognese pasta. The texture of the homemade pasta was good, and the sauce was hearty and flavorful. The portion size was much smaller than their typical entrees.
Dessert was a simple scoop of gelato, which was OK but nothing special.
Although the food in the Restaurant Week menu was fine, I feel like diners really miss out on the best that Antico Forno has to offer if they stick with the simplified menu. Honestly, the prices at Antico Forno are so reasonably, there's really no reason to go with the Restaurant Week menu. Our frutti di mare pasta was only $21 but was probably about three times larger than the Restaurant Week portion of the bolognese pasta.
I would suggest just going with friends, ordering a few pizzas, appetizers, pastas, and desserts to share. You'll end up paying about the same as "Restaurant Week" but getting a much better meal (and really a much better idea of the best that Antico Forno offers).
I'm a fan of this place, and it's the first place we think of when parent friends as for a "kid-friendly" restaurant in the city. The ambiance is lively and loud. No one will care if a baby starts to cry or if a child starts fussing. The restaurant has a nice supply of high chairs in the back and has several kid-friendly menu items (though there isn't a kids menu per se).
Everything we've tried has been solid, and there have been several standouts. Definitely try the frutti di mare if you like seafood, or give the rigatoni all bascaiola a try. You can't go wrong with the pizzas either. Over all, it's an excellent choice for a casual, reasonably-priced, and delicious Italian dining experience right in the heart of the North End.
93 Salem St
Boston, MA 02113
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