Healthy and Sane

Dinner at Sportello, Boston

October 5th, 2011 · 25 Comments · Boston, restaurant reviews

This past weekend, Adam and I attended the Boston Local Food festival. It was supposed to rain on and off all day so I was happy the weather actually held up for the most part of the afternoon. I think the fear of rain put off some people (or maybe how crowded it was last year!) so while it was still pretty crowded, at least you could see the end of the line to the vendors (and in many cases there was no line at all!). Anyways, I’m telling you this because snatching up a grilled pork belly with apple chutney sandwich from the Sportello booth was no problem at all. The sandwich was pretty nice but my favorite part was getting a little token for a free chocolate chip cookie, which we could get a few blocks away from the actual restaurant. Of course I made sure to stop by and claim what was rightfully mine!

Standing in front of the bakery counter, watching happy brunchers enjoying their meals, reminded me that I never actually blogged about our experience at Sportello back in July.

sportello Photo by Boston Photojournalist Erik Jacobs

Our wedding anniversary happens to be on the same day as my dad’s birthday and also the weekend of 4th of July. Needless to say, there is a lot of eating happening during those few days. Since we went to Italy for our honeymoon, we also have a tradition of celebrating somewhere Italian. Keeping all of this in mind, this year we decided to keep things relatively casual (read: not too pricey) and Barbara Lynch’s Sportello seemed to fit the bill perfectly. [Last thing going for it is that it happens to be on my 30 by 30 list Smile]

On a Tuesday night, around 7:30pm, the restaurant was pretty deserted. I’ve seen pictures of the space before but in real life (possibly partially because it was empty), it seemed like we just came to a bakery to celebrate our anniversary dinner (there is in fact a bakery section to the right of the above picture). The large windows flooded the space with light, which made the space seem that much more casual. I did say we wanted things relatively casual. Casual we got.

It’s all right, I had high expectations for the food and was excited to finally try it. We hopped on the bar stools right by the open kitchen and made our beverage selections.


Whipped ricotta and stewed fruit with Italian bread


The whipped ricotta was rich and creamy but the bread did not excite me. I felt like I could get that at a supermarket. I saved room for what I hoped would be better things to come.

Salumi plate – robiola, peperonata, olives


A simple plate of fantastic salami and what I thought at the time was the best brie of my life. Looking at the description now I see it was in fact robiola, which wikipedia tells me is a softened Italian cheese (of course!) made with varying proportions of cow’s, goat’s milk and sheep milk. I loved how soft and creamy it was without any stink that I’ve experienced with stronger brie. Even the little breadsticks (grissini) seemed more flavorful that usual (house-made?).

Adam ordered the spicy tomato soup with caraway grilled cheese


He enjoyed the flavorful soup (I tried it, good stuff) but the cracker on top does not grilled cheese-make. I’m all for creativity but that’s just false advertising Smile

For my entrée, choosing the ricotta gnudi with tomato, basil, black olives croutons was a non-brainer.


I’ve only had gnudi at Pazzo (which has since closed, tear) and was shocked at how fluffy and airy those pillows of ricotta-goodness were. The gnudi at Sportello did not resemble those at all. They were a lot smaller in size and in fact seemed pretty firm – a lot heavier than even my homemade gnocchi which I made just days prior (too much flour?). I’m going to cut to the chase here – I wasn’t that impressed. My favorite part of the dish was the tiny olive croutons you may be able to spot in the pictures. I picked every one out and thought it was a really fun and creative twist on an otherwise very classic dish.


Adam pretty much licked his plate clean (he got the polenta bolognese of sorts – sorry I don’t remember the details, it’s obviously been a while) but I once again thought this was too classic and unexciting for a Barbara Lynch spot (with prices to match!).

Ice cream sandwich – chocolate gelato, chewy chocolate cookie


Classic. Solid.

Overall we left the dinner pretty disappointed. I think a very large part of it was the ambiance, which just did not match what we need for an anniversary night (totally our fault although most online pictures make the space look cozier than it is) and then high expectations for a hyped up spot further just lead to unmet expectations. I loved the open kitchen concept and think that on a busier night the space could be buzzing with more excitement and perhaps take a life of its own (like at Barbara Lynch’s B&G Oysters). What we experienced was more fitting for a brunch/lunch spot. Simple food with quality ingredients in a modern space. Don’t expect anything beyond that.

Ever been to a place that was just wrong for the occasion? Have you been to Sportello? Any other Barbara Lynch restaurant? Thoughts?

PS – Adam and I are going to New Orleans this coming weekend. Any not-to-be missed dining spots or any other suggestions for us?

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25 Comments so far ↓

  • #1 - MelissaNibbles

    Simple food with quality ingredients is what I look for in a restaurant so I’d probably like this place a lot. What I don’t like from the pictures are those uncomfortable seats. No backs? No thank you. I like to sit comfortably during a meal.

    • #2 - Elina

      I normally enjoy that as well but I thought it still had relatively “high end” prices for such simple stuff. You could get something similar at a hole in the wall for half the price. I think the bar stools add to the space feeling more like a cafe rather than a restaurant.

  • #3 - Sarah @ Sarah's Modern Bites

    Great review! I actually had to google ‘gnudi’ ! haha Sounds delicious… sort of like the filling of a ravioli.. mostly cheese, right?

    Ambiance is KEY in your dining experience. The food can be stellar but f the atmosphere is all wrong it just kills the night. I really try to take that into account most of all. If I know the food will be good, and the company of course wonderful, then ambiance is what I look out for #1.

    My boyfriend went out for a date night Friday night and we both wanted a lively atmosphere but still dark.. mood setting with no bright lights (I hate that)… island Creek Oyster Bar totally fit the bill :)

    • #4 - Elina

      Hehe, I’ve only had gnudi from one place before and LOVED it. It’s mostly ricotta with some flour to hold it together, maybe egg? Sort of like gnocchi but with ricotta instead of potatoes :)

    • #5 - Elina

      Oh and Island Creek is on our list. I hope to try it soon!!

  • #6 - Michelle

    The ricotta gnudi looks AWESOME!

  • #7 - Lizzy

    This is why I love you. I went to sportello for my birthday last year and I was highly disappointed. Everyone told me I would love it. I did not. Every one of our dishes was unseasoned and I felt like it was another trendy place that didn’t live up to the hype. Our dishes were small and there was nothing special about any dish- something I highly expect from a place that charges such high places. I will only go back for brunch- no more dinners, if I go back at all. I even stopped taking pictures and never blogged about it!

    • #8 - Lizzy

      oops high prices. not places. my b!

    • #9 - Elina

      That’s exactly how I felt. You said it perfectly. I’d do brunch/lunch there too and maybe even grab a pastry from the bakery once in a while if we’re in the hood :)

  • #10 - shannon

    gnudi and gnocchi are different… seems like their dish was a mis-nomer! boo. hate being disapointed :(

    • #11 - Elina

      Well they had gnocchi on the menu too. I guess it’s just their recipe for them – seems very similar in texture to store bought gnocchi :)

  • #12 - Megan

    This has been on my list of places to try for a long time, but I guess now I’ll keep it in mind for a lunch spot rather than a fabulous dinner out. That gnudi looks incredible though.

  • #13 - Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic

    I actually really really love Sportello, so I’m bummed to hear you didn’t have a great experience. However going in, I knew what to expect about the ambiance (it’s def not fabulous) but I really liked the food. I also like the counter service for lunch and take-out. I’m a big Barbara Lynch fan and so far haven’t been disappointed yet in any of her restaurants! On another note, the grilled pork belly sandwich sounds right up my alley!

  • #14 - Joanne

    I feel like if you were expecting really simple food, then you would have enjoyed this more but I feel like when you go to a barbara lynch restaurant, you just expect more! Sorry this wasn’t everythign you hoped it’d be.

    I can’t wait to see what you eat in New Orleans! My stomach is growling for you.

  • #16 - Emily @ A Cambridge Story

    I have been yet but that’s too bad the ambiance was sub-par… that’s always really important to me. In NOLA, try to check out John Besh’s restaurant, August. It’s fantastic!!

  • #18 - Katie (The Aspiring RD)

    I AM SHOCKED! I have never had anything but a fabulous meal at Sportello so I’m so sad it didn’t work out for you! Mike and I think they have the very best bolognese and carbonara and I agree with other commenters that it is the low-key vibe that I don’t get from her other restaurants and therefore love here.

    Maybe worth a 2nd try? The lunch/brunch and dinner menus are very similar but maybe you wouldn’t be so disappointed with a lower key atmosphere at lunch-time!

    • #19 - Elina

      I wanted to love it, I really did. Maybe they had an off night (Lizzy – see above – had a similar experience so maybe they do sometimes). I’d try it for lunch if the prices are lower; otherwise I just don’t think it’s special enough to be worth it.

  • #20 - Jaime @ La vie...J'aime

    i went there a few years ago when it first opened…had a great meal and need to get back there!

  • #21 - Elizabeth

    I got the free cookie too 😉 I’m a big fan of sportello’s baked goods and I love the ricotta they serve at the beginning of a meal. I NEED to try the ice cream sandwich.

  • #22 - Daisy

    I liked Sportello, (just liked, not loved) – and I can totally understand why you were underwhelmed. I went to New Orleans in May. You guys are going to have SO MUCH FUN. Definitely get to Irene’s, there will be a long wait but I thought so worth it. Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA was also good, but overpriced I thought. Obviously Cafe Du Monde is a must visit. I also liked Napoleon House (had lunch there) and Brennan’s (had brunch). here is a link to my travel page with all the detailed posts.

  • #23 - Sophie @ LoveLiveAndLearn

    Well the food looks delicious, real shame about the atmosphere!
    I love going to the restaurant and I’m not ridiculously fussy but if it’s expensive or a fantastic reputation then you expect it to be excellent.
    I want to try some gnudi, that sounds really interesting!

  • #24 - Adrienne

    Meh, I’m with you, I think Sportello is just ok for the prices (which to my mind are sky high). I only went once and although the food was good, the portions were teeeeny tiny and the prices were not. I don’t think it’s worth going back.

    I haven’t been to Menton or B&G Oysters, but the two meals I’ve had at No. 9 Park have been underwhelming for the price, too. I guess I’m not that much of a Barbara Lynch fan.

    • #25 - Elina

      Menton was great but otherwise I haven’t been that impressed with her other restaurants either. B&G Oysters has good lobster rolls and awesome mussels but I’m mostly into the atmosphere (love watching the chefs do their thing!). I had the most disappointing restaurant week lunch at the Butcher Shop a few months back and my dinner at No 9 Park (also restaurant week) a few years ago was forgettable. Maybe I’m too picky :)