90 North Washington Street | Boston, MA 02114
Before this weekend, the only time I’ve ever had gluten-free pasta in a restaurant was in Italy, of all places. In the rolling hills of Tuscany, the little restaurant my wine tour stopped at for lunch served gluten-free bread and pasta. It was wonderful. Since I sadly had to come home, I have rarely had the opportunity to order pasta in restaurants. This past weekend was St. Anthony’s Feast in the North End of Boston, so a few friends and I headed to Boston’s Italian neighborhood for some food, friends and fun.
Per usual, and especially in the case of Italian food, I had to be a little high-maintenance about the evening. Not just any Italian restaurant was going to do for this Guru. A quick Google search for gluten-free restaurants in the North End referenced Nebo many times. I had heard a lot about it so I was excited to check it out. Upon arriving, we realized it was right across from the feast, which was just perfect.
I think it’s pretty clear from this blog that I consider my specialty gluten-free pizza. But as we sat down in the corner booth right by the door at Nebo, the ambiance started getting me in the mood for some pasta. I opened my menu and realized right away that I had forgotten to ask for a gluten-free menu. I didn’t see anything about gluten-free food and momentarily got nervous we’d come to the wrong spot. I went to ask and my fears were allayed — I was promptly handed a gluten-free menu with Nebo chicly written on the side. Now I was really confused… This couldn’t be the gluten-free menu! It was just as full as the regular menu. A side by side comparison with my friend revealed that, yes, in fact, this was the gluten-free menu and yes, there were many options!
Ordering was a lengthy process. First we had some questions, which our waiter obliged, though not without calling my roommate “little one” (uhhh…). Then there was the great task of choosing what to get. With so many different pizza, pasta and drink options, I was quite overwhelmed. I ruled out gluten-free pizza relatively quickly — it was a hot night and I didn’t want to have greasy pizza sitting in my stomach (unnncomfortable) and there was the option of having someone serve me gluten-free pasta! When in Rome, they do say.
Then there was the task of deciding between pasta dishes. The Amatriciana dish combined protein, veggies, spiciness and red sauce, so in the end it won out. My roommate had a similarly difficult time choosing what to get from the slightly larger regular menu, and settled on the Ricotta Gnocchi. Two glasses of the Turlo for the two of us and our orders were set. My friend opted for a salad and a mango Cosmopolitan (yum!).
Our order was timely. The first thing I noticed about my gluten-free pasta was that it was that it was rotini-style. Oh man, way to make me look like I belong at the kids’ table! I was hoping for a sophisticated pasta dish, perhaps linguini or even some shells, but no, my plate was filled with little curly-q’s. Fine. I took my first bite, feeling perhaps a bit juvenile, but nonetheless, hopeful. I first noticed how hot it was and set it back down to cool. Then I began my meal. The sauce was good, though not very spicy, as were the bits of pancetta (which is a kind of Italian bacon, but lean) and the pasta was stiff, in the chewy way that undercooked gluten-free pastas can be. Bummer.
Determined to give my dish a fair shot, I continued to eat and, what do you know, it was so hot that it cooked itself more and after a few bites it became a wonderful texture, especially for gluten-free pasta. It wasn’t mushy at all, and held together very well. Despite its goofy looks and stiffness at first, it was quite good. Should I have gone with the gluten-free pizza? Most definitely. The gluten-free pasta was good, but it wasn’t great, and it wasn’t anything I couldn’t make easily (and for much less!) at home.
My friend enjoyed her salad, but my roommate was unenthused with her gnocchi. She said it was very plain and didn’t come close to finishing it. She too wished she had ordered pizza.
Nebo was a bust and overpriced for the lackluster meals we received, but it was a lovely dinner out that turned into a lovely night spent in the packed streets of the North End enjoying St. Anthony’s Feast. I suppose I should have stuck to my usual and gotten the gluten-free pizza, and perhaps the experience would have been better.