This column used to have a rule about never eating within 1000 cubits of a college, government building, or sports stadium. It's all about transient foot traffic, the kind that doesn't keep a kitchen honest. Colleges have somewhat reduced their radius of bogosity, but the double-curse of the TD Garden and the O'Neill Federal Building has kept the North Station area pretty dismal for diners out. Nebo, however, seems to be just out of cootie range.
HOLY DELIGHT The strozzapreti - "priest stranglers" - are fat spirals of fresh pasta, served in a light cream sauce with wild mushroom. Delicious, and divine.
It did fool me for about five years by opening as a pizzeria (it still is a rather good one), and only gradually unveiling homemade pastas, serious appetizers, classic cocktails, a few trattoria entrees, and a list of desserts, including many North End classics presented here in sleek modernity. Now Nebo ("North End of BOston") is a real restaurant, and one of the better ones, if pricey (and that's besides parking). Garden-event nights mean easy tables around 7:30 pm, when the ticket-holders run out to the game or concert.
My first two visits were on the way to basketball games: I had entrees and drinks with friends, and rushed off. Then I went back alone on a hockey night to mop up: three appetizers and a dessert. Either way, Nebo has a lot going for it.
However, this is one of those places where you pay for the bread, bruschetta aglio e olio ($2). True, long diagonal slices of toast brushed with garlic oil are kind of worth the two bucks, and my server actually knew how to pronounce "bruce-KET-ah." The broccoli rabe version ($10) delivers three pieces of toast topped with my favorite bittersweet vegetable, pine nuts, and little soft cheese. Good, but the pizza is better — even something as tame as a margherita ($15), your basic Italian flag of tomato, cheese, and fresh basil. It's thin-crust Boston-style pizza like it used to be.
Tripe has gone from a Sunday special to an appetizer ($13), but it was sold out on my appetizer night. I settled for fried smelts ($13), a primitive delight of little fish eaten almost whole, here with excellent dry frying. Salsicce alla brace ($10) is an elegant appetizer of two house-made sausages (one Italian sweet, one hot) with one red cherry pepper and one green one. Perfect bar bites.
Speaking of bar, they have it going on when it comes to drinks. I had a sidecar ($12), a sneaky-easy way to drink brandy smoothed out with orange liqueur. The bicicleta ($12) is a combination of chardonnay and Campari, and I like the bittersweet tinge of Campari against the white-wine base, but you want to keep both hands on the handlebars with this one, too. Wines by the glass are expensive, but properly oversize wineglasses show them well. Coffee and decaf are good at a reasonable $2.