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Artu, N. End -- an unfortunate (and HUGE) disappointment

My girlfriend wanted to take me out for my birthday so she told me some of the ideas she had in mind. After taking some decent rec's from a couple friends, as well as what seems like some fairly positive rec's on these boards, we chose Artu's North End location.

First the positive's:
I think the only negative things I've heard/read are about the service and some troubles sticking to a "reservation". Well, we made a reservation from 7:30 on a Saturday night....we walked in about 5 minutes early and they sat us right away. We were immediately greeted by your classic Italian mother-like waitress who was an absolute sweetheart. It was a busy night, she was clearly rushing around - but she was fantastic!

We started off with a nice bottle of pinot grigio and an order of the spicy calamari -- both were fantastic. Specifically regarding the calamari - not too much breading, not fried to the point of being unrecognizable - tossed with some hot peppers, olive oil and fresh garlic -- quite simple, but a very nice start.

Now the negative's:
My girlfriend ordered the shrimp scampi and linguine...what she got was a plate full of linguine with literally 4 small shrimp tossed in with too much olive oil. Now, we weren't expecting Vinny Testa's type of plates that are weighing in at roughly 20lbs a plate, but 4 small shrimp?? C'mon. The dish as a whole was extremely amature...and tasteless.

I ordered the veal braciolettine - I'm already biased because of my great aunt's home-made braciole, but that's irrelevent here. Actually, it wasn't that bad....except for the obvious canned mushrooms that were mixed in. I thought that was a little...cheap, I guess you could say. But the meat was cooked well and had a decent taste, so I will give them that. In addition to that and honestly one of the biggest disappointments I've had at a restaurant, especially one in the "authentic Italian" North End, I ordered a side of fusilli with red sauce. After the first bite I say out loud: "spaghettio's" ... my girlfriend asked what I meant and I said that it tasted EXACTLY like spaghettio's. She tried for herself, and she immediately agreed "oh my god it's definitely spaghettio's!"

That right there was the nail in the coffin. We've all had medicore meals, but in a whole this was just a bad meal and an extremely disappointing experience - especially since the previous year we had a fantastic dinner at the neighboring Fiore.

I hate to be so negative, and like most things I'm sure this will be debated. But I felt so strongly about my experience at Artu that I really wanted to post this and share with you all.

Go and try for yourself if you wish, I just really hope you DON'T experience the same as we did.

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  1. Sorry, your meal didn't go well. I am a huge fan of Artu and have spent many a Sunday afternoon there over the past few years. However, in thinking about it. I don't believe I've ever ordered anything with red sauce other than the mussels in fra diavolo which were great. For some reason Artu, is my place for thin crust pizzas; chicken stuffed with spinach and prosciutto; meatball sandwiches and calamari. They also do a wonderful steak. I would suggest if you go back, stay away from the red sauce dishes and you may feel differently about the place. They really do have a wonderful staff.

    1. I only get their roast chicken and sandwhiches, Favortito, roast pork, which are pretty good. Not a place I'd venture into full blown dinner.

      1. We had the same experience there about a year ago. We will never go back.

        1. I am so tired of so many "Italian" places serving mediocre pasta that I am afraid to order pasta out, unless I know for sure it will be amazing. Especially red sauce, since I grew up eating my Italian grandmother's.
          At Artu I have always ordered their roast pork with marinated eggplant....very good.
          How sad that they cut corners like this. I've wondered how their pastas were and now I know for sure I will stick with their roasted pork.

          Did you tell the waitress? Curious to know what she'd say....I've had the same one there many times and she seems to care about the diner's experience.

          4 Replies
          1. re: poptart

            I would love to, as it sounds like their non-pasta dishes are good. However, with so many other choices in the area that I have not yet checked out, as well as places I would love to go back to, I don't think I'll be back to Artu any time soon. I'm actually really bummed to say that, too.

            I would have loved to have said something...but I didn't, to be polite. And like you, I grew up on my Italian grandparents' and mothers red sauce ... but I'm not that picky! ;-) Unfortunately, it was THAT bad. I didn't want to be rude - and it was my bday night out, so we tried to make the best of it!

            1. re: holo1979

              Understandable that you'd want to make the best of it on your b-day!

              Luckily there are so many other places to try and it's not our only choice for Italian in Boston! :-)

              1. re: holo1979

                I feel the same way when folks say "give them another chance". Why? There are so many other places to eat and, for me, it's hard to go back to a place where the memories aren't great. Canned mushrooms are a huge no-no as is crappy red sauce. No excuse for either.

                1. re: three of us

                  Yes...canned mushrooms in the 1970s, maybe. But now?? Forget it.
                  And bad red sauce....never an excuse for that, and yet many "Italian" restaurants have horrendous red sauce on their sides of overcooked pasta. :-(

            2. It's too bad you had such a disappointing experience at Artu. I can honestly say in all the years I've been eating there I have never had a bad meal. As a rule, I don't order pasta anywhere, so I can't speak to that except to say I cannot imagine anyone in their kitchen using a canned macaroni product and passing it off as their own. But I've been up and down their menu since a couple of months after they opened and have enjoyed everything! I hope you return to give them another chance.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Gio

                I hadn't been to Artu in years but was in town with Swedish relatives on Tuesday and figured it would be a good, comfortable place for an early dinner. I think everyone enjoyed their meal but me! Not that it was bad, it was just so-so. I was actually disappointed in the calamari. It was OK but certainly far from the best I've had. My other dish was an antipasti with marinated mushrooms, artichoke hearts, olives, salami and cheese. The mushrooms looked canned as did the artichoke hearts.

                Shame on me for not going with the roast chicken or a pork dish! Next time.

              2. Last year a group of eight of has had lunch here. Sadly, we discovered that the panini were not grilled...they are literally cold sandwiches. Would have been nice if the server mentioned it when we ordered. She didn't, but she did mention it when serving them. Thought that was odd.

                The sandwiches were totally non-descript and were like something we could have made ourselves with a package of Oscar Mayer.

                The pizza we shared was okay. The server thinks it is the best in the North End. It isn't, but it was decent.

                Never, ever, ever, ever again.

                1. Put me in the "shocked because I've always had good meals there although I usually order the pork or some non-red-sauce item" category.

                  I haven't been there in over a year but I've consistently had great meals there, ordering what I order.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                    Artu's strengths have always been their meats and veggies - the pasta and fish have always been mediocre at best, in my opinion.

                  2. Artu is one of those places that seems to draw extremes of opinion. I'm in the negative camp on the place, myself -- have had terrible red sauce and calamari that was salt-ridden with overcooked pasta and squid, served by a bad waitress who mixed pushiness (i.e. trying to shove the bill up) and lack of attentiveness after dropping off the food. But several folks on this board have had good experiences there.

                    1. I'm also in the camp of "always had good meals here but never ordered pasta". I've always thought of Artu's strengths as being their roasted meats (favorites being the lamb and porchetta), though I also really like their stuzzicante sub (provolone, salami, coppa and marinated eggplant). I also like the stuffed chicken Donato, especially because it comes with a side of their garlicky marinated eggplant, which I love. One of these days I have to try the gorgonzola, prosciutto, and potato pizza Pegmeister often recommends.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Rubee

                        Mmmmm, marinated eggplant. That reminds me I'm long overdue for Artu's lamb sandwich (another non-red-sauce item).

                        1. re: Alcachofa

                          I've only been to Artu's once for the lamb sandwich because I read so much about it here on CH....it was so good.

                      2. See, that's the problem with Artu. Nice place, good service, swell bar (which is rare in the North End) but the food is inconsistent. One night I devoured the best clams/linguini/white sauce I've ever had in a restaurant and when I ordered it another night it was LOUSY. Few clams, none too fresh and overcooked pasta. Do they still have the grilled vegetable antipasto? That was always my default order because there was such a lovely variety of grilled vegs and they were presented so nicely.

                        1. Is this really a surprise to anyone??? Artu is a quick grab dinner type of place nothing fancy and nothing too good either.

                          1. Sorry to hear you had a bad experience. I've been a fan of Artu for a while..mostly for the roast chicken or lamb sandwich; but the occassional veal dish. Rarely eat there; but get takeout. Always enjoyed..good value in the midprice NE array.

                            The side of pasta with veal hasn't been good for a while and I usually get the grilled veggies..and make a pasta at home if I want it.

                            Only pasta dish I've ordered is the lasagna; which I enjoyed

                            I haven't been lately but i hope this isn't an overall decline.

                            1. I just returned from a weekend jaunt to Boston and had a quick lunch in the North End.

                              I had a side order of Rigatoni with red sauce at Cantina Italiana. It was excellent! And it was just a side dish. (They also serve a very nice pizette here as well, delicious).

                              After reading the comments on this thread, If Artu can't make decent pasta shame on them!

                              It seems like Artu's fans order the same one thing each time they go and they skip the pasta. If a restaurant in a celebrated Italian dining area puts pasta on the menu, they should serve a decent version of it. 'Nuff said (on my part anyway).

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                I don't know, I guess I don't think of the North End as just being about the pasta. Other than Prezza, I don't think it's a strong point of many of the restaurants. Also, it has a lot to do with what you've grown up with. I still prefer my own, so I tend to stay away from the red sauces. I will always sing the praises for Artu's pizza and that chicken stuffed with spinach and prosciutto, but for chicken parm I would go to Antico Forno. Cantino Italiana would be one of my last choices because I thought it was just average, but I know people that love it.

                                1. re: Pegmeister

                                  Peg, I tend to agree with you. I just think if an Italian restaurant can't deliver pasta, it shouldn't be on the menu.

                                2. re: TrishUntrapped

                                  "It seems like Artu's fans order the same one thing each time they go and they skip the pasta." That's the whole point of chowhound. Identify the standouts. We don't care if a place has only one item of note, and the rest of the menu sux. Tell us about that one item!

                                  That said, I agree that theoretically a place should not put pasta on the menu if they can't handle it.

                                3. Bummer about your experience at Artu! I've found that 5 North Square is a great place for a mid-priced, casual ambiance North End restaurant with really good food. Maybe worth a try next time.

                                  1. Stick to the basics and you won;t get burned. The favoritos, preferitos, roast lamb, roast chicken and chicken cutlet subs are well above average. I also like their veggie antipasto. The rest is risky if you ask me.

                                    BTW, if you want red sauce, there are so many options ... I prefer Mother Anna's. Mmmmm, now that's Italian!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Bob MacAdoo

                                      We went to Artu in January. I was very disappointed. I had the lamb and it was so overcooked that my tongue hurt from trying to eat it. My husband was not overly impressed with the food, but he was not as unhappy wih his choices as I was. We won't be back.

                                    2. Have always enjoyed ARTU on Charles St. Never been to N. End. Sorry it was such a downer.