I like that term.
It describes a lot of things.
Our economy. New "me too" products. The closing of our profligate, overexpanding, overspending retailers. Sorta.
And restaurant menus. Dishes designed around whatever it available and in-season. A little more pragmatic than "farm-to-table", a little less sexy than the literal and usually fibbing "seasonal". Market-Driven conveys seasonality and practicality in a northern climate where agriculture is limited in the 6 months of winter and early spring.
Market-Driven. Yeah. I like it. It says a lot while saying so little and you can almost see the wink and a tip of the hat from the MBA in the back office who is constantly coming up with new jargon to say simple things.
Sportello, Boston chef and restaurateur Barbara Lynch's new counter service Italian spot ("Sportello" is the term for 'counter service' in Italy), is a..wait for it...market-driven restaurant in Boston's hip waterfront neighborhood, Fort Point, near the new ICA. Sportello is bright and airy and open and fun and an inviting lunch space. I don't know about dinner. Yet.
From the outside, however, Sportello is marginally visible, though it is signed.
Once you find it, though, you know you are in the right place:
And you walk in the door and are hit all at once with a bright, well-lit, scrupulously clean room with white accents. The counters glow.
For those who enjoy watching their food being made, the open kitchen provides opportunity to observe cooks and staff shuttling from one station to the next as they put together your meal.
Menus serve double duty as placemats. Notice the menu underneath the salad? Mizuna, fennel and Parmigiano-Reggiano salad was a simply executed exercise in restraint. Just a pinch more salt would have pushed it into sublime.
The first thing that arrives at the table after you meal has been ordered is a small dish of ricotta with a dollop of jam and olive oil, accompanied by house-made bread. It is a sweet, salty taste of nostalgia. It made me think of the bagels with cream cheese and jam favored by my father shared during the Sunday mornings of my youth.
Eric, a college friend who may be the only person I know who has had more careers than I have, came with me to Sportello. He paid for our wings and beers at the bar during the Superbowl. It was my turn to reciprocate.
We both swooned when our pasta arrived. He had the gnocchi with mushrooms and peas (with a hint of truffle oil...argh). I had the pillowy gnudi, beautiful dumplings filled with airy ricotta and tossed in brown butter with walnuts with Parmigiano-Reggiano.I'd first had the gnudi at the Spotted Pig in NYC about 5 years ago. These dumplings were lovely, though the walnuts were just a hint too bitter for me. Both dishes were lovely, simple, and well-executed.
We ate every last bit and even supped up the sauce with the remaining bread.
For dessert, we inspected the pastry case and contemplated each chocolatey tart and homey sweet.
We settled on something small - finger-sized eclairs, made with vanilla bean pastry cream. The pate a choux shells were still firm - yep, they were very fresh, likely made that morning.
For those who like to end their meals with a souvenir or two, Sportello carries a line of jams and grains and oils and treats (and Sportello t-shirts!) displayed on a shelf near the take-out counter:
At night you can make your way to the basement, where Lynch operates her craft cocktail lounge, Drink. I'll have to plan that night out for myself sometime soon.
348 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02210-1236