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Seriously, CHers... Antico Forno?

I generally avoid the North End (have had few positive experiences) but had a friend in town who wanted to go. I'm always up for trying a new places and searched this board for a few threads and saw Antico Forno on Salem Street recommended a number of times so I figured I would try it out.

Horrendous service... we showed up a bit before our 7:30 reservation but were not seated until 8:05. Until we were seated, we contended with a surly bartender who took over 5 minutes to fulfill an order of a glass of prosecco from an open bottle that was right in front of her. Finally seated at a rickety table for three in the middle of the dining area next to screaming children. My husband was consistently bumped from behind from the one waiter serving the entire dining room.

We all had pasta, which despite each dish having delectable sounding menu descriptions, tasted exactly the same. My rigatoni with peas, Italian ham, mushrooms, sweet onions and mascarpone had no trace of mascarpone and tasted like nothing other than regular marinara... which is exactly what my husband's meal tasted like.

Curious why this place is recommended... it was an absolute zoo and it wasn't cheap, either.

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Antico Forno
93 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02113

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  1. I haven't been back since it expanded, and have noted several negative reports here since that expansion, but have long observed that: a) they have always treated reservations cavalierly, essentially honoring them only if it's convenient, b) I think the best items come from their wood oven, like a few baked pastas and their pizzas, and c) it's a family-friendly place. I have enjoyed it over the years for certain scenarios (typically big groups with kids), but it hardly gets universal acclaim here.

    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

    1 Reply
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      I "use" it for lunch.

      Great Chicken Parm from the wood oven. Never really think of it for a dinner destination and haven't ordered anything else for years.

      I know through firends that they're not great about honoring reservations. They used to take a cell phone an send yout to Bacco,

      BTW,those rickety tables were a gift from a nearby marina that Ms 9 managed. The marina now has nice, non rickety tables..:)

      -----
      Bacco
      107 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02119

    2. You should go there in August on a hot muggy summer night, no ac, they open the windows which doesn't help because you're wall-to-wall flesh. Oh yah, like MC Slim JB says, only order stuff from the wood oven, but don't set your expectations too high. Actually, when you factor in parking it's really not worth going in to the NE. I'd recommend taking a short trek over to Somerville and go to Vinny's.

      7 Replies
      1. re: treb

        To be fair the scene is the same at Neptune a few doors down (and many other NE places) on a 'hot muggy summer night'.

        1. re: Gabatta

          Don't go near Carmen on a hot muggy summer night..:)

          1. re: 9lives

            Don't go near Carmen on any night. This is a restaurant that doesn't "get" reservations either. At least AF has a bar where you can wait out your late-served reservation; at Carmen, they shove you out to the street while you wait.

            1. re: hondodog

              I've never had a problem with Carmen honoring reservations and I go at least 6 times a year.

              1. re: hondodog

                I have better luck than hondodog on Carmen honoring reservations, but not as good as phatchris. It's not bad enough to keep me away, though it's true I'm less likely to go in the dead of winter, given the lack of a comfortable waiting area.

                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  IMO the dead of winter is the best time for the North End as most of the tourist have gone home, as long as its not school vacation week.I go into hibernation mode in the summer and either cook myself or leave the hood for the South End.

            2. re: Gabatta

              You're correct, I stop going to the NE from Memorial Day to Labor Day, way to crazy with those festivals and tourists.

          2. I like it for a late lunch, the service is much more relaxed and friendly when dining around 2:30 or 3:00. They have absolutely never been good about reservations. That said, I absolutely love their chicken parm and they are very good about making dishes that are not on a menu. They have always accomodated when I've asked for mussels fra diavolo. I do have to admit I haven't been back as often since my favorite waiter left. He just always knew the proper pace and never rushed us. He has since moved on to Artu and Mare so it's back to Artu for the shrimp scampi pizzal.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Pegmeister

              We stop in for the mussels and that's always at lunch time. I think like many places it is a conditional use spot.

              Penny
              http://www.bostonzest.com/

              1. re: Pegmeister

                Hi Pegmeister!

                Your favorite waiter has now moved on to Gennaro's 5 North Square. With him there and a new chef that has completely revamped the menu and wine list, I MAY give this place a whirl.

                1. re: birdy30

                  Thanks, good to know! I haven't tried North Square in quite awhile, guess I'll have to give it a try. Let us know if you get their first.

              2. Lunch for me also. Ribollita soup and the Grilled lamb sandwich. excellent.

                1. that's too bad

                  i've only been to antico forno for lunch but i've always had a pleasant experience. i really like their lamb sandwich (sliced roast lamb topped with sauteed onions and peppers on thick grilled bread. served with a lightly dressed side salad of mixed greens)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: galangatron

                    My experience exactly mirrors Galangatron's: it's a perfectly nice place to have lunch, especially if you get that excellent lamb sandwich.

                  2. I don't think I will be back to AF for a long while until they get their act together. It has happened to me twice in recent history where I sit at the bar and wait and wait and wait and wait for someone to a) say hello b) offer me a menu, a cocktail, heck! anything! Even an acknowledgement... The first time I just walked out. This time, there is a guy sitting next to me drinking a beer so somebody somewhere got him something. Everyone sees me but nothing is said. After what seemed like an eternity, I get up to leave. That was when I was informed by a server that the bar is not open which brings me to my point. Shouldn't there be some type of communication to the customers, a sign, perhaps, stating that there is only table service? Shouldn't the hostess who was too busy gabbing to the beer drinking guy have said something to me instead of making me feel like an idiot just sitting there? Am I suppose to approach them for a menu? I just don't get it.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: birdy30

                      Awwww birdy30! where you been? I been missing you Come back and amuse us!!!

                      Anyway, to be on topic, the times I have enjoyed AF have been strictly limited to occasions where I had to entertain out of town business guests with very bland palates, or groups with kids. I have no idea how it stays open. It's not " bad" per se, but not good either.

                      1. re: yumyum

                        Birdy30 is back on board!!! Getting married in 12 days in Napa and the people on the San Fran Chow Board were HORRIBLE at helping me with restaurant suggestions. I know for a fact if the same question were posted here in Boston, I could completely count on you all. Fyi... :)

                        1. re: birdy30

                          ZOMG mazel tov! Please come back and post your heeeelarious things. Please.

                          1. re: birdy30

                            Left you a quick rec on the SF board. Congratulations and enjoy the city.

                      2. Well, none of the CHers recommending Antico Forno in the numerous "best of North End" threads I found in my search qualified their recommendations with any of these "lunch time only" or "brick oven baked only" or "forget about reservations" caveats. I disagree that uncovering it in five out of eight threads on the North End means that it "hardly gets universal acclaim" -- it clearly gets some. I guess I am disappointed to find out about these qualifications post-dining experience (and over $100 later).

                        For the record, we DID order baked pasta out of the oven and it tasted exactly like the non-baked pasta -- bland and no discernable resemblance to the menu description.

                        -----
                        Antico Forno
                        93 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02113

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: astrid

                          Part of the issue may be taking "Mentioned in five out of eight threads" as a useful recommendation. I don't think it is, nor is any random sample of any collection of online amateur reviews. It takes a little work to extract trustworthy-to-you opinions out of any online review site.

                          I value Chowhound much more highly than most such sites, as I think the level of local knowledge, general knowledge, depth of dining-out experience, curiosity, open-mindedness, imperviousness to marketing hype and chef celebrity, and dedication to the pursuit of great chow is higher here than anywhere else, but it is still a collection of individuals with their own relative strengths and weaknesses, passions and indifferences, clear-sighted perspectives and biases. (Thanks to assiduous moderation, I think it's freer than most of commercially-driven biases, bad Internet manners, and sheer craziness. Pretentiousness, self-puffery and unmerited professions of authority are still allowed, however.)

                          I think you still have to figure out which posters are closest to your own sensibilities (or opposite, which can also be useful), who has particular expertise greater than yours, who has been to your target restaurant recently, and so on, to get the most value. As good as the general posting population here is, calculating a mean opinion score can still yield a sub-optimal result.

                          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            I agree with all of that and then some. A great review of online reviews.

                        2. Went there for the first time not too long ago, largely for the same reason you cite - it showed up in several north end threads and fit the bill for what I was looking for. I was quite purposefully looking for a north end red sauce joint, and i needed it to be family friendly (and priced that way too). We made a reservation, despite the warnings about that (despite your claim below, those warnings *have* been given all over the place). Given what I wanted/expected, it was AOK. Nothing great, but it was in line with my expectations. We were seated immediately (granted the place was empty at the time, so no skin off their butt), service was about what I'd expect, and food seemed to generally be a slight notch above your typical NE red sauce fare

                          1. I have had similar experiences with some of the restaurants recommended on chowhound, but I am personally a fan of Antico Forno. The service is hit or miss, it is crowded and loud, but the chicken parm is the best in town. I looked through some of the threads about AF and saw the chicken parm mentioned a number of times, did you try it? I have had a few of the other dishes (pizza, baked gnocci) and all are slightly above mediocre. When going to places recommended on these boards, it is important to get a sense of what the best dish they serve is. In my eating adventures, I have found that very few places do all of their dishes well, but some make one dish so fantastically delicious it is worth coming back for that particular dish; Antico Forno is no exception. As for Pagliucas, it is horrendous. My GF and her fam are pagliucas, as they said it was a disgrace to the name. (I live in NE, eaten at almost all the overrated overhyped places).

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: FultonSter

                              I can't comment on the food reviewed above as I did not eat it (but have enjoyed my visits to AF in the past) but in my experiences, waiting for 35 miuntes past a reservation time and waiting 5 minutes for a drink in a packed restaurant are pretty common occurrences. I will agree that rickety tables are really annoying.

                              1. re: FultonSter

                                Have you had the chicken parm at Maurizio's? I like Antico Forno for their pizza and fried calamari. For red sauce joints I would take LoContes or Galleria over AF any day.

                                -----
                                Antico Forno
                                93 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02113

                              2. they are an authentic combo of Italian and New England, they're not going to fawn over you walking in for the first time.

                                Some of the dishes are quite good (e.g. Linguine with clams - done in the oven, or pork chops) and it's a good value for downtown Boston. It's also quite busy and family friendly.

                                Not your cup of tea, got it. But you didn't get mugged, you just had misset expectations.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Carty

                                  Ugh, please. I do not expect to be fawned over, nor do I expect them to know it's my first time there. I just expect reservations to be honored and not to be outright ignored by a bartender. I'm born and raised here in New England, I've eaten in plenty of Italian restaurants and I don't expect kid glove treatment. I do expect common courtesy.

                                  I get it -- some of you think I am whining about this restaurant, that I somehow have unrealistic expectations, that I don't know how to use Chowhound, that I don't spend enough time "cultivating" the opinions of those users whose opinions I value. With my original post, I was merely questioning why the place had been recommended at all, since I had had such a poor experience on all fronts (food (including oven-baked pasta), service, overall treatment). I got some useful information in response and some grief.

                                2. I'm with McSlim but used to be a Big Fan of AF before the expansion. They struck out 3x and for me, they are out. Just too many places want my dollars and most more deserving. I had a bad feeling my 1st time in there after they doubled in size. Now I still do love Rino's in East Boston, Bacco's, Regina's N End.....

                                  -----
                                  Bacco
                                  107 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02119

                                  1. I haven't been to Antico Forno, but completely agree with your general avoidance of the North End, and based on your experience will make sure to steer clear of AF in the future. There are far too many places there, including some that a fair number of people actually like, that to me are tourist traps that mistreat their customers.

                                    I have also encountered reservations that mean nothing at a couple other North End spots, as well as overpriced, mediocre food. As far as I'm concerned, if a restaurant isn't going to take the care to treat its customers decently, it doesn't deserve my business.

                                    -----
                                    Antico Forno
                                    93 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02113

                                    1. I'm not buying the whole "tourist trap" label being slapped on the Northend. I have had numerous well cooked, fairly priced, and politely served meals at places like Giacomo's, Momma Maria's , Cantina Italia, and even Antico Forno to name a few (there are others that are escaping my memory right now). In my world, a "tourist trap" is just that: a place that relies solely on location to lure in visitors that are served mediocre, overpriced food by transient servers. I just don't see the northend falling into this category. You want tourist traps, try finding a decent meal in Orlando, Florida.................................

                                      -----
                                      Antico Forno
                                      93 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02113

                                      12 Replies
                                      1. re: TonyO

                                        I agree with Tony --I wouldn't just choose an area and slap a label on it to apply to ALL restaurants. Yes, there are certainly spots to be avoided in the north end, perhaps more than in some other neighborhoods in Boston, but there are also really great gems.
                                        And for the record, I think Antico Forno is pretty good. I do think there are certain dishes better than others --the pizza, chicken parm, baked pasta dishes come to mind -but over the years I have had genuinely good experiences there. I will say that having a "reservation" there doesn't seem to mean much. The few times we have had a reservation we still ended up waiting. I don't get that, but it's not enough of a reason to keep me from heading back.
                                        I think the OP may have just had a bad experience....certainly not indicative of all experiences at this restaurant, but perhaps enough for her.

                                        -----
                                        Antico Forno
                                        93 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02113

                                        1. re: TonyO

                                          I guess I broke my own rule of not commenting on North End places, because my views may have been colored by a couple of particularly horrible experiences that may not be indicative of the general level of dining available.

                                          However, many other people have posted that Antico Forno continues to take reservations that it may or may not honor with timely seating, which for me is unacceptable.

                                          I used the tourist trap label because I feel that there are a fair number of restaurants trading on the fact that the North End is popular with tourists which frees them up from worrying about return customers.

                                          As far as Florida, don't know about the tourist traps, but when I was in Kissimmee there were chain restaurants as far as the eye can see. These are popular with tourists precisely because they know what they are getting and don't have to worry about tourist trap chicanery such as bogus charges on the bill.

                                          -----
                                          Antico Forno
                                          93 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02113

                                          1. re: TonyO

                                            I think a key difference to be made is between "tourist trap" and "touristy". Sure, maybe I'm playing semantics but I think they are at different levels.

                                            1. re: TonyO

                                              Ditto.

                                              1. re: mcel215

                                                I too would agree that "toursity" can be fine (after all, most of us travel so at some point we are "tourists"). Tourist "trap" is a place that locals just don't go to while "touristy" may be a place that relies on both tourist dollars as well as locals. Makes sense to me.....................

                                              2. re: TonyO

                                                Tourists and suburbanites is probably closer to the truth of who makes up most of the business here. I still say that the North End's reputation as a dining destination (outside of Chowhound) is overblown, that perhaps 1 in 10 restaurants there is worth the time, money and parking aggravation, and that the prevailing style (red-sauce Italian-American) isn't my favorite offshoot of traditional Italian cuisine.

                                                I also prefer full-service restaurants (reservations taken and honored, dessert served, etc.) to turn-and-burn. Few places anywhere are worth enduring long waits in line, aggressive plate-clearing, and a check-drop after the entrees are served.

                                                A number of North End restaurants are also guilty of gouging practices that a non-tourist restaurant could never get away with: charging for water, pushing specials without disclosing that their prices are 2-3x normal entree costs, padding bills with unordered items or prices higher than listed on the menu.

                                                Yes, it's a generalization; let's all be wary of using too broad a brush. But tourist trap fits this neighborhood better than any in Boston, save perhaps Quincy Market.

                                                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                  MC, I agree., especially about the parking situation, it is dreadful. I will say, that if ever had a restaurant charge for water, pad my bill with unordered items, or charge more than the menu stated it would not be a pretty scene ! These practices need to be called out and aired publicly. Also, I think teh attraction of the Northend is the uniqueness of the neighborhood that exists so rarely in modern America. Sure the food may not be the best in Boston, but it is a unique experience for many visitors from the vanilla subdivisions that populate America today. Hey at least it isn't full of Cheesecake Factories, Chili's, and Applebees. Maybe I'm just being too kind, but I think it serves a purpose and the Italian-American food served there is better than teh vast majority of that served elsewhere. Bostonians are blessed with great culinary options, many other towns /cities in America, not so much .........................

                                                  1. re: TonyO

                                                    Agreed, we don't want to look a gift horse too closely in the mouth, and that's an excellent point about the absence of national chain outlets in the North End. Compared to many cities, we've got it very good here. I'd still rate about half the restaurants in the neighborhood as serving substandard Italian-American food.

                                                    A few places to watch out for: Trattoria Il Panino, which refuses to serve tap water and only sells bottled water, a practice it has been speculated is illegal; another place whose name escapes me that is open late and also charges for water; La Dolce Vita, one of many places that pushes its specials hard, never mentioning that they are dramatically pricier than the average entree cost (one reason I always ask the price of specials if not offered); and a number of clip joints that shamelessly overcharge; the last one I have personal experience of is the long-closed La Brace, but anecdotally speaking, there are many more: a friend discovered $50 in mystery charges for multiple items on his bill at Il Panino, for one, clearly not an innocent mistake.

                                                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                    -----
                                                    La Dolce Vita
                                                    221 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02113

                                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                      La Dolce Vida is the worst of the worst.

                                                  2. re: MC Slim JB

                                                    NE restaurants worth the hassle;

                                                    Neptune
                                                    Prezza(Bar)
                                                    Marco
                                                    Carmen
                                                    Lucca(Bar)
                                                    Tresca(Bar)
                                                    Artu(Bar)
                                                    Regina
                                                    LoContes
                                                    Galleria 33
                                                    Beneventos(Pizza)
                                                    Maurizio's

                                                    1. re: phatchris

                                                      If I thought long enough (I won't..:)) I could probably disagree with a few...but that's a good well thought out list.

                                                      I also like the original Daily Catch on Hanover, Limoncello and Massiminos...last 2 for mostly lunch

                                                      -----
                                                      Daily Catch
                                                      323 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02113

                                                      1. re: 9lives

                                                        I always forget about Daily Catch, probably because its so small.

                                                        -----
                                                        Daily Catch
                                                        2 Northern Ave, Boston, MA 02210

                                                2. .

                                                  1. Too bad you had a bad experience...We love going here but, we always order pasta/pizza out of the wood oven, have two kids with us, and go for lunch/late lunch. Never a bad meal, but we look at it as a lunch place with the kids. I would probably not consider going there for a night-time date.

                                                    In addition, the parking is good. They will validate parking for Garage #7 (I think this is the name of it), which is pretty close by, and costs around $3 at the most for us with the validation.