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Neptune's Too Good for the North End?

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Again Michael Serpa shows himself to be kind of miserable. He is *very* fortunate to have so many fans on Chow, I have never been one of them.

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  1. Woah. The north end is a miserable place to do business? That's not exactly what he said but that place has lines out the doors. Gift horse I'm looking you straight in the mouth sez he. Blerg.

    1. In a word "yes". Can't get mad at him for pointing out what everyone seems to know. Most North End restaurants are horrible, overpriced tourist traps. Is he wrong to point out that there is no creativity at the places in the North End?

      12 Replies
      1. re: bclarke25

        I think he's wrong to bite the hand that feeds him. Just stay klassy Neptune!

        1. re: yumyum


          Public Relations > Food -- that's the Chowhound way!

        2. re: bclarke25

          I disagree that most North End restaurants are horrible, overpriced tourist traps. Most are just fine and some are very good.

          1. re: bclarke25

            I completely agree with you, b. To me, this 'cause celebre' is the product of a) people who have too much time on their hands b) the sick and silly 'survivor' /'top chef' orientation of current entertainment media and c) people not reading slowly enough. I read Michael's simple statement as truthful and non- vindictive, the words of a wicked hard working conscientious chef who wishes he worked in a neighborhood of like- minded chefs to share with and inspire him. And for anyone who's ever met Serpa,it's hysterical to think of someone accusing him of ego/attitude. Sweet and thoughtful are the operative words for the man.

            1. re: opinionatedchef

              Anything written will be looked at differently by many. When one starts a column with the heading "too good for" that person is obviously looking for shock and awe.
              If Neptune ever leaves the north end, life will be just fine on Hanover and Salem streets.

              1. re: libertywharf

                I didn't find anything vindictive with the tweet:

                "This is why the North End is a joke. Restaurants here are so sad"

                Some might find those words, shall we say....sweet and thoughful.

                1. re: Infomaniac

                  yes, "This is why the North End is a joke. Restaurants here are so sad" is *exactly* the quote that set me off.

                  It's truly a shame if he's actually "sweet and thoughtful" because that was a nasty tweet for which to this second he has not accepted responsibility.

                  1. re: Carty

                    Can't judge a book by its cover. I'm sure that's what the New England Patriot's organization is saying to themselves right now too.

                    1. re: Infomaniac

                      "Can't judge a book by it's cover." Right. But, you can judge a book by what's written, and if he wrote it, he said it! And that's what will be judged.

                    2. re: Carty

                      '"sweet and thoughtful' take it, in perspective, from the poster. Denial?

              2. re: bclarke25

                It is sad. And frustrating. Especially for people who want to see the NE continue to prosper, to both respect its past and evolve at the same time. The self-parody and cliches are so tiresome.

                Why do so many Italian-American establishments feel the need to self-parody, to dive headlong into those worn-out narratives? It would be more interesting if some places avoided the stereotypes and simply focussed on good food. Not talking about fancy, but honest, humble, authentic. Excellent classic Italian-American, excellent updated Italian-American, excellent regional Italian, excellent fine dining, excellent hole-in-the-walls. There's room for everyone. It would just be great if more places could emulate the dignity of Umberto's and avoiding falling into the trap of slapstick cliches...

              3. While i will no doubt be taken to task for my broken-record response to Neptune threads, i believe this restaurant is over-hyped, over-priced, impossible to get into and their attitude sucks.

                Other than that, its great.

                34 Replies
                1. re: hyde

                  *totally* agree. while it is possible to mistreat an oyster it is pretty easy not to, they don't manufacture the freaking oysters.

                  and people, y'know what? same is true for a lobster roll, there are teenagers doing a very, very good job on a simple dish all up the coast of Maine this time of year.

                  Lots of fetishization of what are, essentially, commodities on Chow. love you guys though, seriously.

                  1. re: Carty

                    Absolutely agree with Carty and Hyde. 100% overhyped and not great to begin with. For the record, I've been twice, once the hot lobster roll was excellent. The other time it was a $25 disgusting chewy, overcooked mess. Both times it was served with plenty of "doing me a favor" attitude.

                    There are many other restaurants in the NE that I find terrific, and a few I'd call outstanding.

                    1. re: CapeCodGuy

                      What are the ones you'd call outstanding and why?

                      1. re: rlh

                        rlh....I'd call Prezza, Terramia, L'Osteria , Pizzeria Regina, and Galleria Umberto all outstanding for entirely different reasons that have all been discussed to death here. I have had outstanding food at each on multiple visits. Many others IMO fall into the very good category.

                        1. re: CapeCodGuy

                          i'll add carmen and taranta to this, but if out of 100+ restaurants we can come up with under 10, then what?

                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            Then...it's in line with every other neighborhood in every other city everywhere? How many "outstanding" restaurants are there in ANY given neighborhood?

                            1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                              i don't know of any other boston neighborhood that has the concentration of restaurants that the north end does. even the south end doesn't approach it. the north end is one square mile, with over 100 places to eat. charlestown is the same size, with only a handful. (most recently minus one, lol.)

                              it's obviously not "broke"; tourists swarm down there, but so many of the menus are interchangeable, with execution that's barely meh. do you seriously disagree? when's the last time you ate at piccola venezia or cantina italiana?

                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                yeah, I disagree.

                                the "North End" is not a *thing* that one can assess, much less place one's self on a pedestal to judge. restaurants cater to a diverse clientele, many of whom have tastes that we find foreign. many people on Chow seem to have rather sophisticated tastes, good for us.

                                the issue is when we decide "foreign" is "sad". I did not call Serpa's tweet "elitist" but I have no issue with whomever did.

                                1. re: Carty

                                  do you really think of these places as serving "foreign" food? many are simply serving cartoon versions of what non-italians think of as italian food -- like hubcap-sized plates of chicken parmigiana on top a mountain of over-sauced spaghetti. i grew up 2nd-generation italian-american and indeed do find many of these places "sad".

                                  it was poor form for serpa to tweet smack about the neighbors though.

                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                    no, hotoynoodle, I think we find the "unsophisticated" tastes served by the North End mainstream foreign. Serpa steps over the line when he, and the sycophants here that defend him, declare themselves superior.

                                    I'm 2nd gen Italian too! Not everyone has >$50 pp to spend at Neptune.

                                    1. re: Carty

                                      no they don't, and i don't always either, but that doesn't mean i'm eating at piccola venezia instead. there can be a whole big delicious world between saucy cheesy glop and delicate $20 crudo. where is it?

                                      people "like" the olive garden too. should we build one down there?

                                      i swear, 1/2 the time out-of-towners stand in line someplace because other people are standing in line, "so it must be good."

                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        so let's help them understand where to go.

                                        1. re: Carty

                                          so let's help them understand where to go.


                                          isn't that the purpose of this board? there must be at least 6-10 posts per week asking "what's the best place in your little italy"?

                                    2. re: hotoynoodle

                                      I've got nothing against a big portion of chicken parm if done right with moist, crispy chicken over a high quality al dente pasta sauced with a nicely seasoned tomato sauce covered in a reasonably quality cheese. I can get that in dozens of restaurants in the North End yet only a few on the Cape who do it right. Like you, I'm second gen Italian, but I don't understand what you find "sad" about a chicken or veal parm dinner.

                                    3. re: Carty

                                      I think judging restaurants is what Chowhounds do, no pedestal required. This site is about offering opinions based on actual experiences (not hearsay) backed up by facts and sensory impressions. I don't think that makes us elitist or self-styled authorities. In fact, a good way to attract ridicule here is to assert your imagined credentials ("I know Cuisine X because I've been there"), to hold yourself up as some kind of authority.

                                      But ultimately, Chowhounds judge, and we shouldn't shy from that role. People come here seeking advice on where to spend their precious dining time and dollars, and criticism softened out of fear of offending someone doesn't help anybody. You want cheerleading free of any critical value, go watch the Phantom Gourmet.

                                      I think the reason Serpa hit a nerve is that his basic premise ("North End restaurants are largely mediocre, despite the crowds") rarely gets aired outside of frank forums like this place. I have questioned the social-media savvy of Serpa's diatribe, but I sure agree with his opinions about the quality of his neighbors. Ten worthwhile restaurants out of a 100 in a square mile may be par for the course in the scheme of things, but it still feels like a gigantic missed opportunity. You'd hope that the North End's restaurant density might lead to fiercer competition on excellence and innovation, but that clearly isn't happening.


                                    4. re: hotoynoodle

                                      I'm talking about ratio, not raw numbers. What you said breaks down to "one out of ten restaurants in the North End are outstanding." I would argue, keeping Sturgeon's Law in mind, that one "outstanding" restaurant out of 10 is pretty good odds.

                                      1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                        dude (dudette), I'd take almost everyplace in the North End over almost every "Italian" restaurant in the (real) US.

                                        I suspect we are not even arguing. Serpa placed his chips, he can live with the roll of the dice.

                                        1. re: Carty

                                          Almost everyplace in the North End over every "Italian" restaurant in the US? Seriously? Maybe we've traveled to different places but I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this statement (even hyperbolically).

                                          Totally respect your opinion and not trying to knock the North End but perhaps you could suggest a couple restaurants in the NE that you think are the best Italian restaurants in the country. Seriously, I'd love to try them.

                                          As far as Serpa (although i agree with him), my opinion is, fine to say to your buddy over a beer, not fine to project over the Internet especially speaking for a restaurant you don't own. No good can come from these types of things.

                                          1. re: Klunco

                                            I'm sorry but you are not listening to me.

                                            The vast majority of the US is suburban and rural areas with no concentration of Italian-Americans. Boston and e.g. New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia are very fortunate to have (at least former) working-class Italian neighborhoods from which to choose restaurants.

                                            I get fatigued from listening to the privileged whine. I *really* like, however, hearing about people's positive experiences and *constructive* feedback here.

                                            1. re: Carty

                                              I think i get you:

                                              1) the North End gets lots of tourists from places like Podunk, Iowa and East BuFu Montana

                                              2) Said places have either no Italian restaurants or at best egg noodles with ketchup

                                              3) it's ok if a North End joint serves middling overpriced food because the above hicks won't know the difference and think its great and the locals here are just whiny elites who will avoid them regardless

                                              4) Profit!

                                            2. re: Klunco

                                              My wife's family is from western pennsylvania, and they have "italian" restaurants (pronounced eye-talian) that I would recommend never visiting. Olive Garden is an authentic Italian restaurant in comparison.

                                            3. re: Carty

                                              i have lived in Chicago and Palo Alto and eat frequently in NYC. Those places may not be real US but have better italian food than one finds in the average place in the North End.

                                          2. re: hotoynoodle

                                            I thought the NE was approaching close to 200 restaurants, so I read someplace.

                                            1. re: treb

                                              quite possibly. i know there are nearly 100 liquor/beer/wine/cordial licenses -- again the highest concentration per resident of any boston neighborhood.

                                              i just took a look at menus at some of the touristy "red sauce" joints we malign. apps are $10-12, pastas nearly $20, entrees avg. $25. red wines btg, all mostly the equivalent of jug wine, are $10+! dessert and coffee, of course, are not even available. so, 2 people each get an app., share a pasta and each get an entree and one glass of krappy wine. this is $60 pp BEFORE TIP. i can enjoy a delightful dinner at many of this board's favorites, while not feeling pressed to get the f**k up so the table can turn, for that same amount. (yeah, i am a wino and my check is usually higher, but, still ! i "could". ;)

                                              i am far from "privileged", nor do i have an expense account, so i choose to spend my dining dollars wisely. if i went in blindly and suffered through a mediocre caricature of chick parm at that price i'd be livid. suggesting it's ok because joe-six-pack has never met an italian and a big night out for him and the missus is olive garden's unlimited bread stix reeks of that weird, current perception that acceptance of middling will defeat "elitism". 22+ million tourists visited boston in 2012. i'm guessing a majority visits the north end. are you suggesting most of them enjoy their dinner because the food sux so badly in "real" amurrica? what about the millions of corporate and international travelers who come here?

                                              as a resident, wouldn't YOU like more and better options in that hood?

                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                I hear yah, I'm 2nd gen Italian so I get it. As for me, I went to Rino's this past week-end, had a great meal with homemade pasta, enough left for another meal for less than $20. The thing that is bothersome, about this chefs article tweet rant, to me is that this chef ranted over a fregg'n lobster roll. Pauli's made a large lobster roll, congrats he was savvy and knows what may sell. NO, has not copy-write on the lobster roll, get over it!

                                        2. re: hotoynoodle

                                          I'm not sure 10 out of 100 is a fair statement. How many of those 100 are never even talked about, good or bad, here and elsewhere? How many places have you eaten at in the NE. Speaking for myself, I'd say 20 at most. So I'm hardly in a position to say there are 10 good ones and 90 that suck. Far from it.

                                          1. re: CapeCodGuy

                                            my circle of friends and acquaintances includes lots of wine/liquor salespeople, many of whom include the north end as their territory. i feel like i have a pretty good bead on the hood.

                                            if places were worth talking about, don't you think they'd be talked about? not following your logic.

                                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                                              My logic is that people don't talk about places where they don't eat, good or bad. As the sample size of NE restaurants is so huge, I would expect there are many places that go unnoticed, or at least unreported by the small subset of patrons that constitute Chowhound posters. The mere fact that we don't read hundreds of posts about how terrible XYZ NE restaurant is proves the point IMO. Just because they are not talked about doesn't mean they suck.

                                              Also, I don't see how the opinions of wine/liquor salespeople, who don't generally dine in their customer's businesses, qualifies them to have a worthwhile opinion.

                                              1. re: CapeCodGuy

                                                Here here ,this is the best reply I have seen, you do know that we are in many cases dealing with uniformed food snobs that think they know everything.

                                                1. re: CapeCodGuy

                                                  Also, I don't see how the opinions of wine/liquor salespeople, who don't generally dine in their customer's businesses, qualifies them to have a worthwhile opinion.


                                                  am not talking about guys who need to drop 100 cases of bud light lime by friday.

                                                  they are expected to be "spending" money in their on-premise accounts. they are NOT going to be posting on-line that someplace sucks, even if it does.

                                                  as a buyer, i've suffered through numerous mediocre, or worse, north end dinners. places that i marvel remain open and then realize it's because they do not rely on repeat biz.

                                                  i am not defending serpa's poor twitter form, but DO feel the hood has much greater potential than where it stands now, much of which seems stasis left from the 60's and 70s.

                                          2. re: CapeCodGuy

                                            Thanks CCG - now I need to check our Terramia and L'Osteria - I agree with the other three based on many good experiences at each over many years. I just realized this is going to show up completely removed from what I am replying to way at the bottom of this thread - sorry for any confusion it creates.

                                            1. re: CapeCodGuy

                                              I've had two very poor meals at L'Osteria. The last time not one of the 10 of us thought are meal was anything noteworthy. I ordered the shrimp scampi with was basically dry pasta, rubbery shrimp and not a bit of garlicky butter sauce. I politely played with it while making conversation.

                                              1. re: Bellachefa

                                                Oh My! Sad to hear. I was there about five weeks ago and had the shrimp scampi app and it was delicious. Fat garlicky and buttery shrimp (no pasta) cooked perfectly. The pasta with my veal parm was cooked a nice al dente, the simple sauce had nice flavor and the veal was crispy and fork tender as usual. No complaints in the group. Hopefully just a bad day for you. Happens anywhere I guess. (I've posted before of my last visit to Neptune where the hot lobster roll served to me was one of the grossest things I've ever been served at any restaurant)

                                    5. That just seems so,,,ungracious. Feel free to think it, but publicly telling your industry neighbors that you think they suck? What's the point, exactly, except to make yourself look like a d-bag?

                                        1. re: dfan

                                          That Rabia's story is fantastic.

                                          Also, he should probably have a better grasp on his neighborhood before making claims about what it's lacking. For starters, there is indeed fine Sardinian food at Maurizio's.

                                          1. re: dfan

                                            Wait...so now this asshole is saying that anybody else in the North End who does a lobster roll is knocking off Neptune. God, what a tool this guy is.

                                            1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                              I think it's pretty obvious that what Rabia's did in opening an oyster bar was exploiting long-wait spillover from Neptune. NTTAWWT.

                                              Mare was already a seafood-centric Italian place, and its business suffered a steady dropoff after Iocco left and quality declined. Reconfiguring it to be more of an oyster bar seems less of an obvious Neptune knockoff / ripoff than what Rabia's did.

                                              No industry pro ever does themselves any favors by engaging in social-media pissing contests.


                                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                Notwithstanding that, Rabia's is fantastic!! Their raw bar is always good. And the service is wonderful. I have tried to eat at Neptune Oyster... probably 30 times over the past 5-6 years. I have been successful in getting a seat in under an hour (my husband's outer limit) about 8 times. And yes, it has been good. Not beatifically good, but good nonetheless. The other 22 times - well, I have eaten at Rabia (or Terra Mia)... and I am now a Rabia devotee. Good for them!

                                                1. re: MC Slim JB


                                                  Do you know where Marissa is these days? She's a friend from yesteryear...

                                                  1. re: C. Hamster

                                                    Yep, she's running the kitchen at Gennaro's Five North Square, been doing an Italian chef's take on Italian-American standards for at least a couple of years now. (The concept is called MangiAmerica, or maybe MangiaMerica.) I think it's very good, miles better than the Jersey Shore Italian-American that most of her neighbors are doing. Her handmade pastas are a real asset, for starters.

                                                    To qualify that, the space looks a little tired, and the bar program, with its rare North End full-liquor license, feels like a missed opportunity. Decent modest wine list and fairly gentle prices by neighborhood standards.


                                              2. re: dfan

                                                way to ramble and say nothing new dude. if you are happy doing what you are doing, good for you. really don't want or need your patently un-constructive advice on where to eat in the North End or anywhere else.

                                                1. re: dfan

                                                  Sounds like the boss made him write that. The old "cover your butt" play.

                                                2. I will say that I did find something positive from this story, and that was Bread and Butter. At some point in one rant Serpa mentions Bread and Butter bringing something different to the neighborhood. I thought it was just another coffee/pastry/cafe spot, but after looking at their menu I noticed they did have some interesting salads and sandwiches to bring to the table. Not revolutionary or anything, but different than what others are offering in the surrounding area. I went in today for lunch and had the kale/farro salad and thought it was excellent. I am always looking for an alternative to the boring downtown cafe greek salad. I can thank Serpa for bringing that to my attention.

                                                  *is Pauli's really a competitor of Neptune? Seems to be something completely different to me...Is the Lobstitution kind of gimmicky and hacky? Sure, but not the greatest reaction by him.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: ebone

                                                    I'm pretty sure the Lobstitution bit was a joke. Easy to see how people might miss that amidst all the other earnest complaining.


                                                  2. What has this blithering a-hole done that is "creative and original"? He walked into an established goldmine 5 years ago and hasn't done anything to innovate or push what they are doing forward in any notable way. He took one of the flagship dishes (lobster spaghettini) back a notch by inexplicably reducing the heat in the previously perfect dish. The crudo special (and other specials) used to be must gets, and were a mind-blowing home run every time. Since Nate Nagy's departure, these specials are hit and miss. Serpa has no standing to call anyone a muppet as he is merely a caretaker of a decade old successful wildly successful enterprise. If anyone could gripe about the copy cats, its Jeff (the owner). However, he's not dumb enough to do it publicly and realizes that it doesn't impact his business anyway.

                                                    6 Replies
                                                    1. re: Gabatta

                                                      I was thinking the same thing. Nate Nagy's creativity is what put Neptune on the map. Serpa was handed a box of index cards.

                                                      1. re: Bellachefa

                                                        Neptune was awesome about 6 years ago, since then the menu hasn't really changed and the tude is ridiculous.

                                                        1. re: Bellachefa

                                                          I thought David Nevins was the first chef for Neptune?

                                                          1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                                            Nevins: opening exec chef, '04-'07
                                                            Nagy: '07 to mid-'09
                                                            Serpa: since.


                                                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                              Thanks - thought that was right. Nevins, who gave them lobster spaghettini...on a Monday...

                                                              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                                                Nevis started it all, Nagy improved upon it, Serpa doing his best to tarnish it.

                                                      2. Why in the F would someone like him say that?

                                                        I've been twice and the ATTITUDE sucks. I'll likely not be back much.

                                                        11 Replies
                                                        1. re: C. Hamster

                                                          I don't go a there a ton, but I have been there enough the last handful of years and I have never experienced this bad attitude that people on here are citing. I almost always sit at the bar and have found the service to be pleasant. I can't recall a sour experience (notwithstanding wait time etc., but I consider that my fault if I choose to wait).

                                                          I am curious what the attitude people are getting is like...

                                                              1. re: ebone

                                                                ebone, sorry to be snippy. i should become a chef. here's one: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/461179

                                                                1. re: Carty

                                                                  Ha, fair enough.

                                                                  I scanned that post, and while it explains why you aren't feeling the value and/or fanfare over NO, it doesn't really say anything about the attitude there. I am not saying this attitude doesn't exist or even arguing on their behalf, I am just saying I haven't had that experience.

                                                                  I did a quick search of "Neptune attitude" and it didn't yield much except that some people don't like their attitude (without examples) and that some people, like me, had not had the tudy experience. I am sure this has been discussed plenty, but in my limited time searching I didn't see any examples or explanations.

                                                                  Frankly, I don't really care, but some of the sentiment here differed so much from my experience I thought it was worth mentioning.

                                                                  1. re: ebone

                                                                    I used to go there a lot. and, this may sound a little odd, but I'm not an asshole. I can only describe it as a "you're lucky you're here" vibe. snippy, distant waitstaff, zero willingness to accomodate even reasonable requests.

                                                                    the exact *opposite* of my experiences at ICOB if that's any help. truly exceptional hospitality there.

                                                                    I am not an Bostonian (I have only lived here 30 of 54 years :)), Neptune is Boston-y, but not in a good way.

                                                                    1. re: Carty

                                                                      +1 to how carty describes the vibe at NO

                                                                      Although we made no requests other than having to beg the disinterested bartender for our check.

                                                                      1. re: C. Hamster

                                                                        Totally understandable, I get the type of attitude you two are talking about, I've just never had it at NO. Stoddards is the first place that comes to mind on that front and is why I rarely go there.

                                                                        1. re: ebone

                                                                          yeah, me *too* re: Stoddards, I almost forgot to complain! Way too close to way more cool JM Curley's.

                                                                      2. re: Carty

                                                                        I've sat at the bar and watched the owner be dismissive, annoyed, unpleasant. I've also watched him attend to his child. I think he is basically a dick.

                                                                        I've had the bartenders basically blow us off on entering, ignore our empty glasses and have to beg for a check to get the hell out of there.

                                                                        I've had a lobster roll there, and upon ordering heard the kitchen shout out to 86 lobster rolls. the lobster roll was half the size it should have been - horrible kitchen execution.

                                                                        I've sat at a table and had a male server be one of the greatest most wonderful, humorous and hospitable hosts executing perfect balance of service.

                                                                        I've witnessed the shuckers to be some of the most gentle and kind servers.

                                                                        BUT, I haven't been in over a year.

                                                          1. I hate that place. The staff acts like you're trying to get into Buckingham Palace to have tea with the queen.

                                                            A cheaper "knockoff" nearby is a brilliant idea to take the overflow.

                                                            1. I have to disagree, the vast majority of the north end restaurant are very good and there are a few that are way overpriced tourist traps.

                                                              1. The funniest thing is that ( at least in my opinion) the lobster roll is better at Pauli's than Neptune.
                                                                The second funniest thing is that the service at Pauli's is much...much..much nicer and friendlier. It is the type of warm, welcoming atmosphere that is part of the charm of the North End. So far..I've only been to two places in the North End
                                                                who lack this warmth - Neptune and Strega.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: BlueMagic

                                                                  In my experience, forget customer service in Strega unless you're a retired athlete or a former cast member of the Sopranos. No offense to either group.

                                                                  Haven't had an issue with Neptune but haven't been super recently, either.

                                                                2. I am going to (finally) shut up. great discussion, I really love this board dearly, thanks.