The one-two combo of Drink and Sportello rocked my world. I was all smiles. And all regrets that we didn’t get an apartment in Fort Point when we moved into the city several years ago. Curse someones shortsightedness…. then again, Fort Point was mostly newly designed but empty warehouse conversions back then. Who could have foreseen its renaissance as a neighborhood teeming with newly designed but empty warehouse conversions along with a Barbara Lynch franchise. Not us.

Drink and Sportello, as well as a fine dining restaurant scheduled to open in late spring, are housed in the FP3 development that you’ve undoubtedly seen advertised across the Fort Point neighborhood with obnoxiously large banners giving cryptic invitations to explore their website. Drink occupies the basement floor of the complex. Though we only stopped in for a quick drink before dinner, we were impressed by the service, decor, and the tasty Cava we tried for a reasonable $9 a glass. Given our brief stay I’ll let this article do the talking for me. Though I will say that Barbara missed the mark a teensy bit if she was aiming to have a spot where construction workers would come in for a shot and a beer. I suppose they could, in theory. But by “in theory” I mean wearing the latest style from the clothing designer as that will be the minimum standard of hip that they’d have to achieve in order to fit in with the late twenties, early thirties after work crowd that the bar attracts. It’s very similar in feel to the Butcher Shop and B&G Oysters, and the day I see a fisherman duck in to B&G for a lobster roll will be the day construction workers make Drink their local haunt. That’s not a value judgment, it just is what it is.

We made our way up the interior staircase to Sportello and settled in to the casual, though not all that comfortable, stools at the large wrap around counter that comprises the restaurant’s seating chart. We decided to skip the wine (though the list is interesting and reasonably priced) and concentrate our energy on the food. Here’s what we got:

Spicy tomato soup w/ caraway grilled cheese

Chestnut bisque

Ricotta gnudi w/nutmeg brown butter, parmigiano

Bigoli w/clams, sea urchin, bottarga

Pork belly w/roasted apples

Braised short ribs w/ butter beans and sunchokes

Pistachio torte

Chocolate budino w/olive oil and salt

The four course meal does not seem to be the norm for Sportello. It’s more of a quick-bite place. But when the food is this good, get as many courses as you can squeeze in. The only dishes that didn’t impress were the tomato soup, fairly ordinary stuff, and the pistachio torte, which was disappointingly dry. Everything else was delicious, with the standouts being the gnudi, pork belly, and budino. Ricotta gnudi are gnocchi in shape and size, but with a much lighter texture (given the replacement of the potato with ricotta)- perfect for the dumpling lover that likes to save room for more food. The pork belly was your standard braised belly, crisped to finish, but went incredibly well with the apples and whatever else was on the plate. The budino was essentially a creamy chocolate torte, but the large chunks of salt and olive oil were perfect compliments.

The genius of Sportello, and the Italian lunch counter model in general, is that 95% of the cooking is complete before the doors even open for customers. Nearly everything on the menu (soups, sauces, fresh pasta, braised meats) can be made ahead of time and then re-heated or finished, leaving very little actual cooking to do when the orders come in (assemble a salad, sear a scallop, boil the pasta). Though the kitchen is directly behind the counter in full view of the customers, you won’t see chefs going crazy. More likely, they’re opening Tupperware and boiling water. The genius of Barbara Lynch is knowing which foods won’t suffer in the process, and which will actually benefit from the rest. This also make service very easy. We took a good long while finishing our soups, and at other establishments this might have caused problems (e.g. our next dish being prepared and having to sit in the kitchen while we finished) but once we were done, the gnocchi and fresh bigoli hit the water and 5 minutes later we’re eating a hot plate of perfectly cooked pasta.

The price tag on the meal was $114 ish with tip which, considering the amount we ordered and the healthy portion sizes across the board, is very reasonable. You could easily fill up with a soup and a pasta (or half a portion of pasta and an entree) and that would cost you $35ish each. If you are in Fort Point visting the ICA or have business to attend to at the convention center, then lunch at Sportello is a no-brainer. But it’s also worth making a special trip. The walk over the channel is pretty during the day or at night and the walk back will give you plenty of time to digest the quantity of food that you ought to eat while you’re there.

Sportello on Urbanspoon

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