North Square Oyster Reimagined as Ciao Bella
If there’s one thing to be said for Italian restaurants in the North End, it’s their comparable longevity. Sure, there have been some flashes in the pan. And the North End’s certainly not immune to the threat of skyrocketing rents; a factor which has pushed even a few long standing stalwarts into shuttering (R.I.P, Maurizio’s.) But the North End’s one of the few neighborhoods in greater Boston where even newcomers can stay open for upwards of 15 years. Outside of Chinatown, it might be the only one.
The same can’t be said for oyster bars. Their survival depends on an almost insulting caricature of exclusivity or providing offerings so novel you’re not certain if it’s shellfish or cubism masquerading as food. Otherwise, you’re reduced to offering $1 oysters on a Tuesday in a desperate bid to stay open (and you know perfectly well the only reason to dine at Union Oyster House is because Grandpa’s dying and you want to make his last family outing an incredibly awkward one.)
When North Square Oyster opened in 2017, it was already facing competition from established hotspots like Mare and Neptune. Still, with Ward 8’s Nick Frattaroli at the helm, it seemed destined for success. After all, Frattaroli is legacy. He’s the nephew of Lucia’s Filippo Frattaroli, whose North End empire wasn’t lost on the likes of Zagat.
But Frattaroli closed North Square at the end of 2018, only to promise a revamp earlier this year more in line with his most recent success, Tony & Elaine’s. Refocusing? Reimagination? Not entirely. North Square Oyster still remains. Only now it’s a pared down version of itself, tucked away in a small bar inside Frattaroli’s newest venture Ciao Bella which opened on Tuesday.
“When we opened our most recent restaurant, Tony & Elaine’s, we were inspired by working within the notion of what an Italian-American restaurant could be,” Frattaroli said in a press release. “With North Square, we knew we weren’t maximizing the opportunity provided by being a restaurant in Boston’s Little Italy. Ciao Bella will be an elevated alternative to the old-school, casual vibe of Tony & Elaine’s and North Square Oyster Bar allows us to continue on with a great restaurant that we’re very proud of. It’s the best of both worlds.”
So what’s the primary difference between Tony & Elaine’s and Ciao Bella? Whereas the former is a red checkered tablecloth throwback limited to 70s era Italian classics like veal saltimbocca and eggplant parm (complete with the requisite Chianti bottles), the latter is a white tablecloth affair with a more diverse menu—vongole, pappardelle bolognese and fusilli alla vodka. Which means that while neither will provide nouveau cuisine that promises to revolutionize the North End (and by default, Italian food in the Northeast), the latter’s probably a more appropriate place to bring Grampa.
As for fans of North Square Oyster, the menu is still there. But it’s changed. It’s leaner. Still plenty of clams and linguine, tuna tartare and gussied up lobster rolls. And while there’s no mention of oysters on the menu, we’ll assume they’re a given. Otherwise, we recommend Frattaroli’s next venture should be a sushi bar which only serves Mexican food.
Ciao Bella is located at 5 North Square in Boston, and is open Monday - Thursday from 4:00 pm - 1:00 am and Friday - Sunday from 12:00 pm - 1:00 am. For more information, please visit ciaobellanorthend.com or northsquareoyster.com