Dining Out: Sportello

By Corby Kummer | Boston Magazine |

I FIRST ENCOUNTERED BARBARA LYNCH AT GALLERIA ITALIANA IN the mid-’90s, and ever since she left I’ve been hoping she’d return to those pasta days. That restaurant (in the Theater District space Teatro has happily and noisily occupied since 2003) was a fusion of sheer talent that left a long legacy. Founders Rita D’Angelo and Marisa Iocco went on to cook at La Bettola, Mare, and Bricco, turning each into a destination. D’Angelo is now at Rocca; Iocco has landed at Spiga in Needham. And Lynch…well, you know where she ended up. Everywhere.

[sidebar]

Lynch’s first professional experience as a cook, she told me recently, was in high school at a Brigham’s, pinch-hitting when there were burgers to be flipped. Years later, inspired by the experience, she decided that the lunch-counter concept was "the right formula" for her next venture. The surprise is how, in Sportello, she has combined Galleria’s simple pastas and classic Italian fare with a Brigham’s-style design of backless stools at a high white counter. (This being Lynch, the décor is miles sleeker than any Brigham’s could ever be—and the food miles better.) Logical though this setup is for the lunch and takeout crowds, Lynch runs a serious kitchen, and she wants to attract a dinner crowd, too. And it’s here that the fusion becomes fairly incongruous.

Then there’s the location. Sportello is Lynch’s second beachhead in her planned colonization of Fort Point Channel (the first was Drink, a lively bar downstairs that has quickly become a speakeasy-style cocktail haven), a rollout designed to duplicate her success in the South End with the Butcher Shop, B&G Oysters, et al. The problem is that between the time she signed her lease in the tony FP3 condo building and the time she could open, the neighborhood lost momentum, failing to attract the sort of rich empty-nester who had moved into the South End’s Atelier 505. Despite Lynch’s sweetheart deal and the rosy scenarios of developers, the big corner space intended for her fine-dining restaurant is still in development. Drink is crowded even on weeknights; Sportello, not so much.

The food should certainly change that. It’s worth going—and going back—for, and represents the bold, stylish classicism that has made Lynch a local and national treasure.