Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Taste of the North End in Needham: Spiga

Tucked 50 feet off of Needham Street (behind a D'Angelos, ironically!), is an Italian restaurant with food so good that it will make you question ever driving into the North End again. Better, still, the prices are reasonable enough that you don't have to save all year to enjoy it. Spiga in Needham had been open for 1 1/2 years when the owners decided they needed a change. So, they reopened on April 15th, having upgraded the restaurant and, more importantly the menu. (Be aware that the website is still being updated, but they are happy to fax you a menu.) In charge of the food is executive chef, Marisa Iocco. And she is what makes this place so special. Born in Orsogna, Italy, she has been head chef at a number of Boston restaurants. Her attention to detail in the food, the quality of ingredients and the absolute simplicity of some dishes is what makes this food stand out. Everything is made fresh here-bread, pastas, mozzarella and a good deal of it is cooked in the 800 degree wood burning oven.Spiga has two identities. Lunch, from 11 to 3, is more casual. You order at the counter and can choose from paninis, salads, pastas and pizza. This option is definitely the best bet if you want to bring the kids as it is informal and if you are lucky with the weather, you can sit outside on the patio. Although they don't have a children's menu, the restaurant was happy to bring us a plate of the best noodles I have ever eaten. The pizza was also fantastic (and enjoyed by at least one of the toddlers). My friend and I devoured the two other dishes. First we had the best lasagna I have ever eaten (also pictured at the top of this post). Instead of noodles drowning in cheese, it consisted of the thinnest slices of eggplant and zucchini, touched with homemade tomato sauce, a small amount of cheese and fresh noodles. I could taste each ingredient as opposed to a heavy mass of pasta.

We also loved our sandwich. This version had thin sliced prosciutto, arugula, Parmesan and just enough oil to moisten it.

Now the confession: I loved our lunch so much that I returned with my husband for dinner...the same day! (We were treated by Spiga to lunch, but not to dinner.) And, quite honestly, it was just as good. At dinner, linens are put on the tables and once inside you can almost convince yourself that you are in Italy, or at least the North End (without the hassle of parking!).This time we started with two fantastic appetizers. First, an unforgettable "Flan of parmigiano reggiano with celery chutney and peperoncino scented olive oil" (pictured at the top of the post.) What this meant was a small fried souffle that was incredibly light with the bite of Parmesan. The celery chutney was sweet and tart-balancing the cheese. We inhaled this. I enjoyed a salad of cold octopus with homemade potato and celery sticks, assorted olives and lemon sea salt. So often salads are overdressed. This one was just dusted with enough vinegar to let the flavors be bright and fresh. It was light enough that I didn't feel too full for the main dishes.

Next was an extraordinary dish (they split it between the two of us) of homemade agnolotti. I was struck by how thin the pasta was, letting the sweet lobster meat dominate. It was served with a creamy saffron scented bechamel and piles of shrimp and crabmeat.

My husband couldn't rave enough about his veal. It was listed as a "veal costata" and it was seared before being roasted in the oven. This meant it was crisp and golden brown on the outside, but meltingly tender inside. I wasn't a fan of the "asparagus-parmiganio tart" on the side. It was freezing cold and tasteless. Ironically, the blanched asparagus on top, though, were green, crisp and pretty close to perfect.

I had a wonderful assortment of seafood. Each item was cooked to perfection. It was a very good sized serving of lobster, clams, mussels, cod and scallops served over risotto. The liquid was a mixture of the freshest tomatoes with a touch of wine and fresh parsley.

I thought the desserts were the weak spot on the menu, however, my husband enjoyed them. First we had an Italian cheesecake made with marscapone cheese from Italy and served with stewed cherries. It was much lighter and less sweet than other cheesecakes I have had and I might have enjoyed it more if I wasn't so full. We also tried the bread pudding. I thought it was fine, but as my mother would say, "it wasn't worth the calories." That being said, FoodieDaddy ate it up, noting that it was creamy and rich.

So, my recommendations: try to go to lunch for a great deal. The portions are good enough for two light meals and prices average about $10.00. Or, splurge for dinner: appetizers are around $11.00, pastas are under $20.00 and the main dishes average $25.00. It would be easy enough to share a pasta and an appetizer, or just go and enjoy a main dish. Not only is this babysitter-worthy, but parking is easy and the quality and care of the food will make you glad you went.


  1. Hey foodie mommy, your review is spot-on. Thanks for the solid recommendation! JB in Newton

  2. Spiga is awesome. A great place to grab a quality lunch for a great price!