Restaurant Review: Sportello, I really wanted to love it

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I used to love restaurant week.  It was a chance to try finer dining establishments around Boston at a decent discount.  I liked to try restaurants generally out of my price range and then I would be more likely to go there and spend the extra money for a special occasion.  However, it doesn’t seem that the restaurants see it this way.  The last few restaurant week experiences have been disappointing.  The most disappointing of all: my trip to Sportello. 

I really wanted to be enchanted by Sportello.  I had heard great things and went in with a positive mindset.

The space itself feels a little clinical, but neat and bright.  The concept is a high-end lunch counter.  Most of the seats are stools along a counter top, like a sushi bar.  There were a few normal tables around the room.  The wooden stools were uncomfortable and a little too close together (I kept bumping elbows on either side).  If you want to have a nice conversation / romantic dinner with a little space, reserve one of the tables.

The restaurant week menu was very different from the regular menu, which is fine, but it clearly strained the kitchen to juggle both the restaurant week and regular menu.  Why do places make a restaurant week menu?  Why don’t they just use some of the items from their regular menu?  In my experience, the special menus just end up being poorly executed.  This was no exception. 

The waitress was reserved, but nice.  When I started asking about wine, you could see her perk up a bit.  She gave me a great introduction to a Chiampi wine (very nice). 

Our waitress seemed pretty knowledgeable about food allergies.  When I mentioned my allergy, she was immediately able to point out suitable menu items.  I was surprised that Sportello has gluten-free pasta and bread.  They do not mention it anywhere on their website.  I don’t know why you wouldn’t promote that.   Not many places stock g/f pasta!   

In fact, the waitress didn’t even mention that they also have g/f bread.  After the first course, a gluten-free roll arrived.  Apparently, since they had to bake it upon request, our waitress didn’t want me to be looking for the bread, since she was unsure how long it would take to bake, which was just fine, it was a great surprise.

The bread was probably one of the high points of the meal.  The bread was delicious.  Served warm, it was like soft biscotti, just a little sweet with a little caraway in it. I wish they sold more in the bakery area.

For my three courses, I tried arugula salad with shrimp, followed by lamb ragout with fettuccine and finally, a flourless chocolate cake.  Husband started with white bean soup, followed by pork shoulder and finally an assortment of cookies. 

First course: husband said his soup was good, but verging on too salty.  My salad was inedible.  I don’t like sending things back, so I tried to eat it, but it was just so overwhelmingly salty that I had to send it back. They brought me another one, which was much better, but it was still a mediocre dish.  The dressing was just a bland olive oil and the shrimp was cut too finely to provide the dish with flavor and impact. 

My pasta with lamb ragout was really tasty.  I don’t normally like lamb, but this was very tender.  I found myself wishing for a bit more seasoning on this dish (they don’t supply salt and pepper on the counter).  The g/f pasta was flavorful, and a little egg-y, which was great.  It was really good pasta, maybe they make it themselves?  It would be awesome if this was available in the bakery.

Husband said that the pork shoulder was nice, but lukewarm.  He said if it was any colder, he would have sent it back, just for safety. He balked at doing so, because we had already sent something back.  We honestly were not trying to be picky; the food was poorly executed.

Husband ordered a vanilla latte with his dessert, which was exceptionally good.  They really use good quality coffee, milk and syrup.  It blew Starbucks out of the water.  He praised the cookies. 

My flourless chocolate cake with cherry compote was good.  The cake was straight out of the fridge.  The flavor was good, it was not overly sweet: I think at room temperature, it would have been perfect. The cherry compote served with the cake was amazing.  I could have eaten that by the bowlful.  In fact, I checked to see if by chance they sold it by the jar in the bakery (they don’t, drat).

As we left, we checked out their bakery area.  It had lots of gluten-free choices, including macaroons, meringues and chocolates.  The waitress suggested a peanut butter and chocolate cripsy bar, but I wasn’t sure if the crisped cereal was really gluten-free, so I ordered a butter crunch for later (tasty).  I was told that Husband’s lemon meringue cupcake was just ok; the sponge was a little dense for his taste and the lemon was hard to taste. 

While I will go back to the bakery, I am not sure I would be willing to splash out the cash to give dinner there another try. 

On a side note, I can’t believe I need to say this to a restaurant helmed by a woman, but please put in an appropriate sanitary disposal receptacle in the ladies’ room. 

g/f friendly: 5 out of 5

food taste and quality: 3 out of 5

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