Each spring, an exclusive, outdoor dining sanctuary like no other opens its doors on Parmenter St. in the North End. The garden, or giardino, at Trattoria Il Panino offers a uniquely distinctive dining experience unlike any other you will find in the city.
Each night, the garden is host to both tourists who are new to the North End and locals alike. Just to be able to get a seat inside the quaint 8-table patio will make you feel like you are part of an exclusive diners club: because once you and your party sit down, you most likely will not be leaving for hours. After hearing the authentic Italian music lingering in the background and smelling the rich aromas that sneak of out the kitchen, you may just forget your sitting in the middle of Boston’s hectic North End and almost believe your at a café in the picturesque streets of Rome.
Il Panino’s garden is one of the few, if not the only, outdoor dining space in Boston where you will not be bombarded by passerbyers as you enjoy a meal of authentic Italian delights. I decided to go to the garden one airy spring night to experience this first hand, and of course to enjoy a delicious meal.
When I first looked down at the menu I knew exactly what would be a great starter to share with friends on the patio; The Carciofo Ripieno. It was unbelievable! The large artichoke was stuffed with a breading of olives, capers, pancetta and chopped artichoke stem. The hints of garlic were very subtle and combined well with the fruitiness of the extra virgin olive oil and the sweet, lightly tannic artichoke.
Next, we decided on the Melanzane alla Parmigiana, Eggplant Pie, appearing as a thick wedge of apple pie, was in fact layers of thinly sliced, egg-dipped eggplant, buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil and San Marzano tomato. This preparation reminded me that Parmigiana, when prepared the correct way, is something very special. Fried Zucchini Flowers were stuffed with light, whipped buffalo ricotta and cooked prosciutto. The imported and expensive Ricotta di Bufala is not too widely used in restaurants because of the expense. Alas, what a difference it makes. The flavor, lightness, and subtleties of this fresh ricotta make all the difference in the world.
Of course, after the delicious selection of appetizers my stomach was starting to feel full, but there was no way we were giving up our table at the garden anytime soon. Our only choice: Bring on the entrees!
The traditional Pesce all’ Aqua Pazza (“crazy water”), was prepared with freshly caught striped bass. The fish was white and pearly with clean intense flavor. The very light and aromatic Aqua Pazza broth once again demonstrated a disciplined, and light hand that would never let the garlic overpower. We also ordered my favorite, the Costada di Vitello alla Milanese: A thin pounded, breaded and pan-fried to a golden brown, veal loin chop. Served with aruguola and baby tomato salad, this is another dish that is so traditional and homey. The veal was outstanding, tender to the fork as well as to the bite, with light garlicky hues and clean parsley finish.
To say it best, the food was wonderful and the company was fabulous, but the shining star of the evening was the environment itself. Spending one of the first pleasant and inviting nights of spring in an enchanting place like the garden was truly a night, and a meal, to remember.