I can see that Nebo’s new Atlantic Wharf location is a hit before I even get on the block. From three blocks down I can already begin to hear the conversations and see the pedestrians slowing down to gawk at the food being brought out to the patio diners. I speed up, power-walking to the restaurant. I want to be a part of it all.
By Marissa Giambelluca
Food Photographed by Jazz Martin — Interiors Photographed by Eric Luciano
When I walk in, I am taken aback by how expansive Nebo is. The dining room alone seats 120 people comfortably, and that’s not including the huge bar that greets you in the entryway, which seems like it goes on forever. On my left I can see straight into the kitchen where cooks are moving back and forth rapid-fire, and to my right I can see all of the people eating outside through the floor-to-ceiling windows. My eyes don’t know where to settle first.
Before I can choose, I meet my dinner companions. Christine and Carla Pallotta are exactly what you’d expect from two sisters made famous by their authentic Italian food and incredible entrepreneurial spirit: Jet-black hair, dark tan skin and a very apparent love of Italian food. When I point out that I love the photos on the wall –large black-and-white photos of Italy– they tell me that they took the pictures themselves on a recent trip. I comment on the stunning architecture and they tell me that they spent months picking everything down to the stain on the chairs and the handles on the doors, the product of a work ethic they inherited from their father, Jimmy. It’s easy to see that this place is their baby. Their classic, clean and designed-to-the-T, baby.
We sit down and I see the menu states that the food is meant to be shared amongst family and friends. Christine explains, “In an Italian household you don’t have your vegetables, your meat and your potatoes in one dish. It’s 6, 7 or 8 things on a table and it’s shared.”
So, in the spirit of a true Italian household, we order a bunch of antipasti to share. We get Salumi Misti, Funghi Selvaggi, Misto Fritto and Burrata. The Salumi Misti is an eye-catching display of meats and cheeses. With prosciutto, speck, lardo, mortadella, coppa, formaggi and pepperonata all sharing a cutting board, I don’t know where to start. We each grab at different meats and cheeses and enjoy the basic but heavenly combination, switching up how we pair the elements with each bite. Then the Funghi Selvaggi comes out and it is a sight to see. In a small, black bowl sits an overflowing amount of creamy mascarpone polenta topped with wild mushroom ragu, sage and a fried egg. Now, the polenta with the wild mushroom is delicious on its own, but when I break the egg yolk with my fork and mix it in, that’s when the magic happens. The Misto Fritto comes out too and it is a great variety of seafood with crispy calamari, shrimp and smelt that comes with a sweet and light Mediterranean aioli sauce. If you want to make your own rules, it’s also very tasty to dip the seafood in the Funghi Selvaggi. At this point, I am just trying to enjoy as many of the flavors as I can before they’re gone.
Last up for the antipasti is the Burrata, my personal favorite, as I have never encountered anything like it. Burrata is cream-filled mozzarella with imported mortadella, topped with pistachios and saba. From the outside, it just looks like a fascinating mound of cheese, but when I put that stuff on some crispy bread and take a bite…I could die happy. It’s creamy and surprisingly sweet, almost like ice cream. I know we ordered it in the spirit of sharing, but I definitely ate more than my fair share.
While we wait for the main dishes, Carla and Christine tell me how Nebo came to be. After all, I read that they were both hairdressers before starting their restaurant. I quickly find that like many great ventures do, Nebo started with a crazy idea. Christine told her sister one day that she wanted to start serving dishes based on the dishes they grew up on. Carla jumps in with, “I thought she was nuts!” I want to point out that she doesn’t seem so nuts now that the place has more people dining at 5:30 on a Wednesday than I could ever expect at my wedding, but I decide to let it be.
The first entrée out is the Spaghettini Alle Vongole, which is a classic dish of spaghetti with baby clams, garlic and chili flakes. The pasta, of course, is perfectly al dente and the clams are just the right texture. It makes for an ideal pasta dish because it isn’t too filling. It is satisfying and it all comes together with the creamy garlic sauce and the subtle kick of the chili flakes.
Next comes the Cioppino, a striking and delicious compilation of lobster, shrimp, calamari, mussels and smelt, all stewing in a light, spicy tomato sauce. It’s a great dish to order when sharing because there is more than enough for everyone and there’s so much variety. I gravitate towards the shrimp and the mussel while Christine goes for the lobster and calamari and Carla works on the smelt. The sauce is divine and gives the seafood a nice hint of spice and flavor.
Lastly, we have the Vitello Milanese. It’s veal cutlet topped with arugula, tomatoes, shaved parmigiano and aioli. It’s crispy, juicy and the aioli is slightly sweet and tangy. This dish is a classic that can be appreciated by all, making it one of my favorite dishes at Nebo.
I look around and see everyone laughing and enjoying their food. I’ve had a fantastic time trying the dishes at Nebo and getting to know both Carla and Christine and they seem to share my sentiments. Carla tells me, “Everything in an Italian household is about family and socializing. Yes, it’s about the food but I think it’s more about the people that you’re sitting with.”
As we finish the last bites of food, I decide to ask Carla and Christine how they believe their dynamic works. To me, Carla and Christine are obviously very close, but they also have very different personalities. Carla is very animated and talkative while Christine is more reserved and saves her words for when they’ll make the most impact. This can either make for the perfect balance or a constant battle, so I ask about it. Carla tells me, “We argue. Families argue, sisters argue, friends argue. But what has to be the same is the vision.” I ask her what that vision is and she responds with something that was already apparent to me: “Our vision is that this is our home.” ⚔