CIAO! PIZZA AND PASTA
I like to think I was ahead of the crowds when my husband and I first found Ciao! Pizza and Pasta in Chelsea, but the wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza has been drawing fans from all over and lighting up Yelp review pages for years. When we lived in East Boston, we kept coming back to Ciao!, eventually learning how to expertly navigate the tight parking lot. And when we moved to Malden, we looked for any reason to swing through Chelsea and take home some dinner. When the pandemic hit, I hoped that my favorite pizza shop — where piping hot pizzas are cooked in just 90 seconds — would be able to just keep firing away.
But Ciao! chef and co-owner Marvin Posada says the pandemic hit the business hard, causing about a 50 percent drop in sales last spring, when Chelsea found itself at the epicenter of devastating dual health and economic crises. Things started to improve in the fall, Posada says. Business partner and co-owner Edson Coimbra agrees and thinks people are beginning to feel more comfortable venturing out, especially now that vaccines are here.
Thank goodness for that, because I’m not done with the menu yet. My habit of returning to the same favorites — namely the Salsiccia pizza, on which big dollops of melted cheese are paired with fennel sausage, a bright and tangy tomato sauce, and cherry peppers — left me unaware of the stellar fresh pasta. The gnocchetti, made in house with red wine-braised short ribs, are delicious. And though the weather might not call for pasta and short ribs much longer, another favorite — an arugula and feta salad that stands out from other pizza-spot salads with the addition of poached pears — is ready to go into my takeout bag when the temperatures rise.
Ciao! Pizza and Pasta, 59 Williams St., Chelsea, 617-286-9346, www.ciaopizzaandpasta.com. Pizza $13-$17, pasta $15-$19, salads and sandwiches $8-$10, desserts $1.50-$13.
- CHRISTINA PRIGNANO, Senior Digital Editor, Breaking News
When you pull open the heavy wooden door of Desfina Restaurant, you step into a version of what this pocket of East Cambridge used to be.
Greek music on the radio. Black-and-white photos hung on brick walls. A homey bar, an open kitchen displaying fresh fish on ice, and tables tucked into every corner, these days behind plexiglass dividers.
Decidedly unfancy, despite sitting just steps from the glassy canyons of Kendall Square, this family-run taverna is a reminder that Cambridge still has pockets of its old immigrant soul. Even if you might have to go looking for them.
Now that you’ve made it here: the food.
It’s excellent. A menu loaded with fish and Greek specialties, from spanakopita to moussaka. There’s grilled octopus on the appetizer menu, and baklava for dessert.
Get the shrimp Desfina. They named it after the place, after all. The creamy rice, flecked with little chunks of feta, and big hunks of shrimp will signal why. The lamb kebabs, too, grilled and meaty; there might be enough for lunch the next day. And while at some places the little extras don’t make it into the takeout bag, they do here. Entrees come with a salad and hunks of crusty bread, same as when you sit down.
If sitting down’s more your scene, you can do that these days, too. Inside or out, at a strip of sidewalk tables that recently re-emerged for spring. Either way, Desfina is worth the trip to this old corner of East Cambridge. Stop on by.
Desfina Restaurant Bar & Grill, 202 3rd St., Cambridge, 617-868-9098, www.desfina.com. Appetizers $10-$12, entrees $15-$20, desserts $5.
- TIM LOGAN, Business Reporter
Tucked away on a residential street in North Cambridge, in a small, unassuming office park, lies an outpost of exquisitely prepared Italian food.
Dishes with homemade pasta are a delight to the senses, including scialatielli, short, curvy noodles from the Amalfi Coast, in a wonderful cherry tomato sauce full of frutti de mare — shrimp, scallops, mussels, squid. The bolognese is hearty and authentic-tasting.
I grew enamored of Gran Gusto, which opened near Danehy Park on Sherman Street in 2007, for the consistent integrity of its Neapolitan-influenced dishes, and I nostalgically remember sipping a Hemingway gimlet (gin, maraschino liqueur, lime) while enjoying late afternoon breezes on its ample front patio as I awaited an entree.
The restaurant has remained open throughout this year of the pandemic and added a family takeout package to its menu ($85, servings for four to six people), but business has dropped by half, according to chef-owner Giuseppe Castellano. I visited a couple of times when the weather was warm enough to sit outside on the brick patio — well distanced and attended by gracious, masked waiters — but took to getting takeout over the winter when I wanted a special meal.
Salads are notable for their crisp freshness and tastiness, including the Caesar with lovely shaved Parmesan cheese and anchovies and the Campo with mixed greens, beets, and creamy goat cheese, as well as the classic caprese with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes.
The occasions when I have persuaded myself to try non-pasta dishes have been rewarding. Maiale, a double-cut pork chop in a rich mushroom sauce was memorable, as was the succulent bistecca and the juicy roast chicken with lemon.
Gran Gusto also offers pizza, including one made with black truffle pate and prosciutto, and another with sausage and broccoli rabe, as well as plenty of classics. The capricciosa is good, with a strong-flavored salami, mushrooms, and ricotta.
The restaurant presents an inexpensive and pleasurable trip to Italy, as close as many of us will get any time soon.
Gran Gusto, 90 Sherman St., Cambridge, 617-441-0400, www.grangustocambridge.com. Appetizers $10-$13, entrees $18-$28, pizza $11-$18.
- JANET WALSH, Assistant Metro Editor