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Jun 11, 2009 06:56 AM

North End Bummer

Pagliuca's 14 Parmenter St.
Antipasto salad was no more than Iceberg lettuce, California olives a couple of pieces of salami and a couple of chunks of provolone. 4 people ordered 4 different dishes. My daughter got the Muscles Marinara. As it was passed to her I smelled the muscles and new they were gonna be a disappointment. She ate 4 or 5 of them and said they were wicked overcooked. in fact the last one she ate made her cringe and she stated that it tasted like they were steamed in one of my hockey skates. The marinara on the spaghetti was good. $20+
My wife got the Beef Brigole. There were no signs that this was anything other than chunks of pot-roast on a heap of spaghetti. The only thing "rolled" was me for paying $20+ for this dish. Our other guest got the Chicken Ziti and Broccoli. tough to screw this up. It was OK. Finally, I was in the mood for a good Carbonara. I ordered the Spaghetti Carbonara. There was enough white pasty sauce on this to cover 4 servings and still have enough to wallpaper my kitchen. The flavorless meat on top was presumably bacon.$20+.
Dining out is not a weekly activity in these tough times for my family and I felt taken by this place.
I have only once felt as let down as this. In Venice we were hurried into a tourist trap joint with a nice view an horrible over price crappy food. I hate feeling like a tourist in my own city. My wife and I did our research on chowhound and this looked like a pretty good bet.
Do not bother with this place.

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  1. In all fairness i should add the fried peppers appetizer were delicious. Melt inyour mouth (even with skin on) warm peppers in olive oil.

    1. I think this is a case of high-risk ordering. Pagliuca's is fine if you stick to red sauce.

      Most North End Italian-American joints botch carbonara, making something more like an Alfredo sauce. Braciole, a Sicilian-American dish, is another big gamble in most of the neighborhood Neapolitan-American joints. (You can get a nice braciola at Vinny's at Night.)

      If you got escarole soup and spaghetti with garlic and oil, meat sauce, or marinara and maybe some meatballs, you'd be fine.

      Sorry about your lousy meal! Never fun.

      13 Replies
      1. re: MC Slim JB

        i can't see how you can defend the meal described above, even half-heartedly. Carbonara in any Italian kitchen isnt "a high risk" or at least shouldn't be. The larger point is that most kitchens in the North End are rather pathetic, red sauce, or not. Blaming a meal like that on poor menu choices is missing the point.

        1. re: mrwhiskers

          "Carbonara in any Italian kitchen isnt "a high risk" or at least shouldn't be."

          The key word is Italian. As opposed to Italian-American, which is what the vast majority of North End restaurants are.

          1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

            seems like too fine a distinction. and the reasons then for the antipasto being as described? is that an italian-American thing? Come on, there is a difference between quality and tradition, and in the case of a lot of NE places--cooking chops.

            1. re: mrwhiskers

              Are you kidding? You think there's no difference between "Italian" and "Italian-American"?

              1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                i said, in this case, that it was too fine a distinction to make. i just dont see the point of defending a bad meal based on 'what you should have had" instead of what you ended up getting. plus, carbonara is a simple dish elevated by the quality of the ingredients, just as a red sauce is. the problem is indifference, not cultural nuance.

            2. re: mrwhiskers

              I did not intend to defend that meal (and I'm not sure how someone could, even if they wanted to); you have my sympathy. And as Bob Dobalina says, if it's on the menu, they ought to be able to do it right. But I think you have to proceed with caution at many restaurants, particularly in the North End. Maybe it's just my own experience, but a lot of bad carbonaras over the years have taught me a certain skepticism.

              I believe that diners can help themselves by knowing what a restaurant's specialty is, be it a particular regional cuisine, technique, style, etc. If you understand what their sweet spot is, you'll generally do better. Sichuan may be on the menu at the Cantonese place, but you might not be thrilled if you order it.


              1. re: MC Slim JB

                I have to agree. Another good example of a North end restaurant where you need to stick with what they do best is Massimino's. It is a a very nice family run restaurant where they excel in dishes like pork chops, vinegar peppers and potatoes and several traditional red sauce items. Where I have seen DC's run into trouble is when they order "specials" like rack of lamb. They are very expensive compared tomenu items - often twice the price and imho woefully poorly prepared.

                1. re: Northender

                  Used to live next to Massimino's and completely agree.

                  I've had quite good carbonara at Marco's before- would recommend!

                  1. re: danielle

                    Marco is my new "go-to" recommendation for mid price range North end fare. I have always had good experiences there.

                    I still like Massimino's home style dishes and their prices used to be quite reasonable - except for "specials"

                2. re: MC Slim JB

                  MC Slim! I agree with you on the buyer-beware front, but surely it's o.k. for a hound to write in to say that a meal flat-out s___ed without apologizing for having been idiot enough to order it. Tepid, qualified reviews of really awful restaurants/dishes make Chowhound less useful.

                  Rant continued: the North End can make most hungry diners stupid. Long lines at one place can make it tempting to walk down the block toward, say, that '50s accordian music and the menu-flak who's a dead-ringer for Paulie Walnuts.

                  Maybe we should be talking about the best & worst of the North End. Has that been done lately?

                  1. re: pocketviking

                    I quite agree with this notion: bad meals need to be called out unequivocally here. I'm not trying to blame the victim, and I do feel plenty of empathy; I've had too many bad meals like that, and they're no fun. My observation was more of a "for future reference", especially in tourist-trap-rich environments like the North End, where it more often pays to be forearmed with a little homework, and trusting the chef to do everything on the menu right is a bigger gamble.


              2. re: MC Slim JB

                I completely subscribe as a 'hound to the idea of ordering "properly" and avoiding high-risk situations.
                That said, if they put it on the menu, they should know how to make it properly.

              3. "Muscles Marinara" - sounds like some kind of a bodybuilder.

                27 Replies
                1. re: Bob Dobalina

                  Holy lord, Mr. Dobalina, you owe me a new monitor. :-D

                  1. re: Prav

                    Oh man...sorry about that. How about a supply of straws?

                    1. re: Prav

                      It'd be a great screen name, though!

                      1. re: sophie fox

                        Actually, it is my son's screen name. He posts occasionally!

                      2. re: Bob Dobalina

                        I was thinking it sounded more like a hitman.

                        1. re: Bob Dobalina

                          I was thinking a Professional Wrestler, but bodybuilder works too

                          In a post from a few months ago, someone was raving about the Carbonara at Dante being truly authentic Italian. Just throwing that out there in case anyone out there was willing to venture across the Charles in search of authentic Carbonara.

                          1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                            Sage in the South End also does a beautiful, authentic carbonara.


                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              Sage is now closed :-( drove past it a week ago on my way to Stella.

                              1. re: BellatrixStar

                                Yes, Sage has been closed for about 6 months. The chef is reportedly cooking at Teatro these days.

                                1. re: BellatrixStar

                                  Yes, and I miss it. Susi is indeed the exec at Teatro these days.

                                  The team taking over the old Sage spot is one I quite admired when they opened The Biltmore a few years back. Sounds like a gastropub, to be called The Gallows, very different look planned for the space.

                                  A fine non-traditional carbonara (egg, pancetta, and uni) is being done at Coppa: I just love that dish.


                                  The Biltmore
                                  1205 Chestnut St, Newton Upper Falls, MA 02464

                                  177 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02111

                                  253 Shawmut Ave, Boston, MA 02118

                            2. re: Bob Dobalina

                              Awesome! Idid not have my culinary spell check activated.

                              1. re: Rich P

                                If you ever need another login name on Chowhound other than Rich P., you have to call yourself Muscles Marinara. Too funny.

                                1. re: Cachetes

                                  In my professional wrestler days, I went by "Bobster Fra Diavlo."

                                  BTW, Pagliuca's (IMO) is very hot-or-miss. As MC said, it always helps to know any joint's specialties, or at least what they do semi-well.

                                  Was at Pete's/Durty Nelly's last night, and had two tourist couples asking me where to go for "old school North End, but nice." Whatever the heck that means. Gave them a few suggestions and they ended up at Rabia's. They really liked it a lot, so I got a couple free drinks later.

                                  Not that anyone cares, but sorry for my absence lately. I moved (only a block, but still a huge pain), I'm planning a wedding, work has been crazy, and my fiance had a terrible accident the other day and was in the hospital.

                                  Haven't forgotten about you folks, just haven't had much food-related things on my mind.

                                    1. re: Bostonbob3

                                      Nice to see you back, Bob. I hope your fiance is ok.

                                      1. re: hiddenboston

                                        Thanks Prav and Marc. She's gonna be fine, but she's pretty banged up right now.

                                      2. re: Bostonbob3

                                        On the one hand, condolences, on the other, mazel tov. Assuming it's the same fiance we met at Angela's some time back, you've done well.

                                        1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                          Yes, Barmy, same one. And yes, I think I've done very well.

                                          Thanks for all the good wishes, folks.

                                          And Pegmeister, why don't you stop by tonight. I''ll buy you a glass of WolfBlood or HoundsTooth or ChickenTalen, or whatever that house wine is.

                                        2. re: Bostonbob3

                                          Hey Bob, I was wondering where you've been. Hope Abby's okay and you both have sometime to enjoy hanging at Pete's (Durty Nellies) for a bit.

                                          1. re: Bostonbob3

                                            Was wondering where you went. I've popped into Durty Nelly's from time to time and haven't seen you.

                                            Congrats on the upcoming wedding and wishes for a speedy recovery for your fiancee.

                                            1. re: Bostonbob3

                                              Add me to the chorus Bob. In fact, I mentioned your name the other day to another hound. Not in a slanderous way, more in a "wonder where HE went" kinda way.

                                              Give the bifster my best.

                                        3. re: Bob Dobalina

                                          Or the guy that breaks kneecaps and hangs out at Cafe Dello Sport

                                          1. re: C. Hamster

                                            You guys are cracking me up!! Muscles Marinara. ;-)
                                            You'd think if you go to a restaurant in the North End it would be somewhat decent. It's too bad that there are so many changes there. There was a time when there were too many great restaurants! Sounds like that's a bygone era.
                                            Has anyone been to Massimino's? We've never been disappointed there and it's been consistant over the years. We're Italian-Americans and I tend to know my way around the kitchen pretty good so when we dine out for Italian it better be good. Massimino's fits the bill in the No. End for us!


                                            1. re: contessa1

                                              I've been a fan of Massimino's for a long time. Great value at lunch.

                                              I had a lukewarm experience at Pagliuca's last summer; but I'm willing to give it another shot after several hounds had good things to say about it.

                                              1. re: contessa1

                                                i'm also italian-american and have lived in boston almost 30 years. i never found the north end to be anything other than hit-or-miss -- especially the red sauce joints with lines out the door. i'll say i have never been to the pagliuca's because of mostly negative feedback.

                                                sorry for the op's wasted night. hate, hate, hate that.

                                                1. re: contessa1

                                                  Massimino's is still very good, probably my first recommendation for folks who want red sauce in the North End.


                                            2. I lived in the North End for a number of years, and Pagliuca's is not a place I have ever recommended to anyone. Sadly, many of the North End restaurants present less than stellar food. I guess they think tourists don't know the difference.

                                              If you go to the North End uninformed, the best recommendations are generally from the residents. Those who live there pretty much know which places "are" and which "aren't." My personal favorite "go-to's" for Italian American yummies are l'Osteria and Massimino's.

                                              1. My husband and I wanted to get some dinner at the North End before a show at TD Gardens last night. Based on a wonderful compendium of North End places to visit posted elsewhere on the boards (, we went to Pagliuca's. We were SORELY disappointed by the food and service. I tend not to write baldly negative reviews online when I have a bad restaurant experience, often chalking it up to my own faulty choices, or perhaps an 'off' night. I have had disappointing restaurant meals before. I rarely leave feeling downright angry.

                                                We arrived at 7pm and were ushered in after a short 10 minute wait (the North End was hopping last night). As this was our first meal here, I wanted to stick with a safe choice in one of the red sauce pastas. I asked the waitress if she would recommend the meat sauce or the clams and she was firm in recommending the linguine with clams in red sauce. My husband ordered the lobster ravioli in cream sauce. We also got an antipasto to share.

                                                Fresh, crusty bread arrived at our table along with our half-carafe of white wine. The chablis was sticky and sweet, which I actually quite like. It was going well up until the antipasto arrived. It looked like half a head of iceberg lettuce, with 4 slices of salami, 8 dry and tasteless black olives, a lump of canned tuna the size of 2 thumbs and 2 handfuls of pickled vegetables (carrots, caulliflower). We were shocked, but newly arrived in Boston from Australia, did not protest as perhaps this was what antipasto meant in the U.S. We ate what we could of the lettuce, then waited for our second course with crossed fingers.

                                                My husband found his lobster ravioli "okay", although I thought it was a bit fishy and pasty (compared to the absolutely luscious ravioli filled with tender chunky pieces of lobster we had at Pescatore, Sommerville a week before). My linguine was disappointing. The sauce was, well, ok, the linquine al dente. But there were two, count them two clam shells on my plate. Optimistically, I searched under and between my linguine looking for more clams, "The shells are probably just for decoration," I said to my husband. I found half. The two clams I did get were overcooked and chewy. So was the half. I really wanted to like this sauce, but found it underseasoned. I waved around in vain for a waitress, hoping to get some of the pepper which was on every table but ours. When she came after 3 minutes of waving, she looked confused at my request for pepper, hastily picked up a shaker from another table, and failed to notice that we had no salt, parmesan or chilli flakes on our table. It took another 3 minutes of waving before I got some parmesan. Normally I would not mix parmesan with seafood pasta, but this sauce seemed to really need it. And with the 2.5 clams I got, I wasn't sure if this counted.

                                                I asked for the bill. It took 15 minutes to arrive (after a pleading reminder at the 10 minute mark) and was perfunctorily plonked on our table. Our neighbouring party of 5 got their bill at the same time, with friendly banter, having asked for it a minute prior to arrival. Perhaps it is more efficient to issue bills for multiple tables together.

                                                Whilst we were waiting for our bill, we noticed a newly arrived table being served their antipasto. Granted they had ordered the "special" antipasto instead of our regular menu one. But theirs proved that Pagliuca DOES know what antipasto should look like, with beautiful pieces of prosciutto and thick slices of mozarella.

                                                Did they misunderstand our foreign accents? Were we just unlucky? Did we look like tourist chumps? In any case, with so much to choose from at the North End, I do not have to give Pagliuca's a second chance.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: ozinboz

                                                  It sounds like you just had a crappy server and a less than great meal. I can't believe you had so few clams, I would have asked about that. Hopefully you didn't pay too much, altho it sounds like whatever you paid was probably too much.

                                                  1. re: Joanie

                                                    A few weeks on, and I'm a little embarrassed by the tone of my post. I stand by the actual facts of my review. But in retrospect, it really could just have been an off night. I guess I just really wanted to have a good time as a newcomer to Boston. Anyways, my apologies to anyone offended by the tone. Thank you for the empathy Joanie.

                                                  2. re: ozinboz

                                                    I have no idea why people would recommend Pagliuca. I've been twice over the past 10 years and both times, it was just poor quality food. Tourist trap.

                                                    14 Parmenter St, Boston, MA 02113