First Taste: Sportello


The ever active chef Barbara Lynch has recently launched Sportello, phase two of her three-restaurant plan for injecting animus into the ghosty industrial neighborhood of Fort Point Channel. (Phase one was Drink; a fine-dining restaurant, coming later this year, will complete the trifecta.) In the process, Lynch has—as she is prone to doing—added another unique dining concept to the hub: casual Italian cuisine served in a diner-style atmosphere.

It’s a no-nonsense, modish dining room with an open kitchen, bright lighting, and an impersonal temper. (A lunch/bakery to-go zone—closed during dinner—lurks in the background with noticeable emptiness.) Seating is limited to stools at a low, angular white counter, which winds throughout the small space. But whatever. The minimalist design is actually a good match for the restaurant’s mission of facilitating swift dining. The frustrating thing is, the service, the food, and the wine all invite you to stay on for a leisurely fine-dining experience. Unfortunately, lingering on those backless, rigid diner stools can get uncomfortable, especially when you’re sticking around for three courses and a bottle of wine.

But where the concept stumbles, the food performs. Starters like the Russian salad (perfectly poached rabbit loin slices, earthy beets, radishes, and a lemony dressing) smack with clean, thoughtfully composed flavors. As you would expect in a Lynch restaurant, pastas are expertly prepared. Wheaty, briny, slightly pungent, and rich, the bigoli with clams, sea urchin, and bottarga is the most complex of the bunch. Meat dishes are also deftly executed—the salt-roasted pork shoulder with porcini and creamy polenta is wholly comforting and gives positive new meaning to the line “Kiss my grits.” And don’t miss the chocolate budino with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt, an offbeat dessert that’s surprisingly remarkable (the oil and salt vivify the chocolate’s finest qualities). One last note however: Don’t expect diner prices. Lynch tags her dishes with straight up fine-dining numbers.

Sportello 348 Congress St., Boston (617-737-1234;

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