Growing up across the street from the historical North End building where Villa Francesca now stands, Guglielmo Ranauro never guessed that he'd open a restaurant in 1976 and name it after his beloved mother. Ranauro was inspired by her traditional cooking and wanted to create a place where other people could get an authentic taste of Italy.
Today, Ranauro has handed over the family legacy to longtime manager and protégé Tomas Salmeron. Salmeron and his culinary team continue to follow those classic recipes, turning fresh-caught fruits of the sea into a daily seafood prix fixe menu. Furthermore, they transform chicken, lamb, steak, and veal into dishes you might find while strolling through a Tuscan piazza or steering a one-person submarine down a Venetian canal. The eatery’s extensive wine list, which includes 140 Italian and international varieties, earned a 2012 Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator. Even the ambiance points diners in the direction of Italy: tin ceilings and stained-glass accents add Old-World nostalgia, and the exposed-brick walls are anchored by Romanesque archways and paintings of bustling village scenes.
For nearly 20 years, Sonie has been a staple to Boston’s fashionable Newbury Street. With enormous French doors that open up in the warmer months and a people-watching scene like no other, the popular restaurant remains one of the best places in the city to see and be seen. Sonsie is open for brunch on weekends, weekdays for lunch and daily for dinner, and attracts a young trendy crowd sporting the latest designer duds – likely from the nearby boutiques. Dinners and late-night drinks are also a staple here, with favorites that range from wood-fired pizzas and miso braised short ribs to sea scallops, roast chicken with herb jus and a classic steak au poivre. A wine cellar on the lower level of this tall, elegant, wood-lined and sunlit space holds some 200 bottles from around the world, many available by the glass.
For dessert in Boston’s North End, make your way to La Summa, tucked away in an unassuming neighborhood location on Fleet Street. The ground floor eatery actually has residential housing above it, with beautifully designed black wrought iron railings that dazzle. Named after the owner’s grandmother, this neighborhood restaurant is popular with locals who come here for a cup of hot coffee, a sampling of limoncello or a nice frothy cappuccino to linger with over a cannoli. Dessert might also include a sampling of tiramisu or creamy ricotta cheesecake, with long conversations and an amiable waitstaff rounding out the evening.
Sixty2 on Wharf is owned by Tony Bettencourt, the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts–trained former chef of the acclaimed Tomasso Trattoria in Southborough. Since opening in 2008, Sixty2 has seduced Salem stomachs with contemporary re-inventions of Italian classics. Bettencourt's meals use local and fresh ingredients shipped to the restaurant via seahorse-drawn gondola. The antipasti platter ($22) allows the chef to drop some knowledge on your plate, as he fills the plate with whichever antipasti options he deems best for the climate and current astrological alignment. Pasta dishes include the potato-filled cappellacci ($24 for full size) and the ribbon-like tagliatelle with a traditional meat-based Bolognese sauce ($26 for full size), while an assortment of entrees ($22–$30) include duck, lamb, chicken, and sea scallops seasoned and spiced to flavorful magnificence. The warm toffee-pudding dessert is a sweet salvo guaranteed to lob a taste grenade at any lingering post-entree hunger.
Brasserie 28 calls upon fresh, local ingredients to inspire their dynamic dinner menu of European-spun sustenance. Practice your dish-passing skills during the Thanksgiving off-season by sharing tasty offerings with your table, such as warm, aged cheddar cheese fondue served with a toasted baguette ($12) and local Wellfleet oysters with pickled black radish, spicy Bloody Mary, and celery sprouts ($8). Move into the meat of a meal with specialty entrees such as the juicy duBreton farm pork chop paired with french lentils, root vegetable, and wilted swiss chard ($24). To upgrade childhood memories, try the snickers dessert, a grown-up pairing of dark chocolate, peanut-butter mousse, caramel nougetine, and a dash of fleur de sel ($8). A three-course prix fixe menu is available Thursday, Friday, and Saturday during Valentine's Day weekend, ensuring that every forkful is introduced to your sweetheart’s mouth while it's smiling ($39 per person).