Half of the restaurant is encased in windows that open beautifully to the street in the summer time, but since it’s December, they do a fantastic job of keeping the heat in while showcasing the pedestrians scurrying by in their long coats. The scenery is a huge plus, but it’s the one-of-a-kind food experience that really draws a crowd. Sfizi is the only place in the North End to allow diners to take a food tour of the Mediterranean without ever leaving their seat.
Executive Chef Gianni Caruso, who was previously chef at Bricco and Quattro (to name a few), plays a huge part in this unique dining experience. He’s been working with Frank Depasquale for more than 12 years, and his love for Mediterranean food shines through in the excitement he displays while explaining the menu to my friends and I.
The burrata is eye-catchingly displayed as a little tower on the plate. The creamy fresh mozzarella and large slice of crispy bread are delicious, but the star of the plate is the whole tomato at the bottom, which is stuffed with pesto sauce, topped with breadcrumbs and baked to perfection—it bursts with flavor. Quickly thereafter, the Zeppole con le Alghe comes out, and we decide to tell the waiter to bring all the tapas out at once because that’s half the fun. The zeppole is a perfectly-cooked seaweed fritter, or as my friend calls them, “little balls of heaven.” It comes paired with a sweet salmon caviar cream, which makes a really great salty/sweet combination. Both tapas give me a great insight into the dishes of Italy, but with the chef’s personal take.
As the waiter expertly positions all the other tapas on our table to explore, we can see many regions of the Mediterranean represented. There’s Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, France—you name it. The people passing by on the street can’t help but stop and stare at the selection. Next up, we have the Ellinikí Saláta Féta Tyrí, which is Caruso’s interpretation of a Greek salad. The presentation is unlike anything I’ve ever seen for a Greek salad, with the tomato, pepper, onion, cucumber, and olives all layered in clean concentric circles, and the feta in a little block for you to break. It’s fun to look at and of course, just as fun to eat. The salad is refreshing and tasty, just like in Greece. Sticking with the Greece theme, I reach for the Souvlaki Merida next. The seared lamb, roasted peppers, and zatiziki sauce are the perfect companions for the light, salty pita bread.
Wanting to switch it up, I start in on the Chorizo y Barberechos and the Polvo Grelhado. The first dish consists of littleneck clams in a white wine and herb broth, but the best part is the little spicy chorizo cubes positioned in each of the clamshells. It’s a little move with a big, delicious payoff. The second dish is grilled octopus atop a bed of lima bean salad. The octopus is firm on the outside but chewy on the inside, and savory—it goes great with lima bean salad, which mellows out the flavor a bit.
The last three dishes to try are the Gambas al Ajio Pil Pil, Ahi Tuna Crudo, and the special of the day: Paella. The jumbo prawns are sautéed in a garlic white wine and chili flake sauce, which is just how I like them. It gives the dish some flavor, but leaves just enough room to showcase the natural flavors of the fish. The tuna dish has a similar appeal. Multiple prime cuts of tuna are showcased on a marble slab, lightly seasoned with sea salt, and lemon, accompanied by pearl onions. They taste incredibly fresh, well seasoned, and it’s a nice dish to round out the others. These two seafood dishes are a nice nod to the previous occupant of this location: Mare.
I save the best for last and finally dig in on the paella. The dish is larger than the other tapas, and I am grateful for it as my friends also dig in. In the heavy skillet, there’s a large mix of poultry and seafood. My favorites are the chorizo and shrimp scattered in the semi-spicy rice, and the whole chicken legs hidden about are also a sight to see. All the elements come together beautifully and deliciously, and it pleases the crowd with every bite.
For dessert we order the tiramisu and a special Spanish dessert I’ve never had before. It has the presentation of a crème brûlée, but is made with lemon, which yields a crispy top and a creamy, sweet, and slightly tart center. The tiramisu is light and fluffy, with a hint of coffee flavor that leaves me wanting more. With the last bites of the desserts gone, I feel I’ve experienced more of the Mediterranean, food-wise, than I would have on an actual tour of the region. In one meal, I was able to catch up with friends, eat incredible food, and explore a ton of different dishes that I otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to in the North End—It’s a pretty neat deal.
It’s a cold December night and I feel so warm and satisfied sitting here in Sfizi, having devoured most of what the Mediterranean has to offer. It’s really entertaining to watch the people on the street stop mid-step and point at our food in the window, amazed and envious. It makes you feel like a celebrity who is in on a little foodie secret. As I gather my stuff to leave, a couple looks through the glass. I lift my hand to gesture for them to come in and give it a try, but they’re already making their way through the entrance.