Lynch tests new, comfortable waters
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  February 27, 2009
4.0 4.0 Stars

For our primi course, we were impressed with "local cod" ($24), which was certainly a lovely small square of fish, cunningly enriched with an underlying sauce of white-bean paste (not "salsa verde," as the printed menu had it), and some more of that radish salad. Bone-in sirloin fiorentina ($30) crosses the Italian steak Florentine with the bistro classic steak frites. You get the most terrific French fries, and then you get this big rare steak, with lots of flavor and juice (and a little melted butter on top — thanks, chef), and broccoli rabe sautûed on top. Mrs. Nadeau likes to take home a bit of steak to go with her breakfast eggs. Not this time, dear.

The wine list is all Italian regional, all recent vintages, all by the glass, and short: a sparkler, three reds, three whites. The glasses are stemless, but large and nicely recurved, like professional tasting glasses. On the whites, the 2007 Cusmano alcamo from Sicily ($9) was fuller than a pinot grigio, but remarkably crisp and fresh for a hot-climate white. Paulo Scavino's 2007 rosso di tavolo ($10) is a blend of all the vines of Piedmont plus cabernet sauvignon, a light wine despite a little tannin still showing under dark fruit. A 2007 Cesanese del Piglio, from Corte dei Papi, is a central Italian wine, lighter and fruitier, based on ancient red grapes of the region. And a 2007 Greisbauerhof St. Magdalener ($9) is made from a red grape known in this area of Northern Italy near Austria as "vernatsch." It isn't often I can add three new grapes to my life list at one meal, but the menu doesn't make anything of the unusual grape varieties. It just lists a lot of regional Italian wines you've never heard of, which turn out to be light, fruity, and perfect for this food. Decaf coffee ($2.50) and decaf cappuccino ($3.75) are both impeccable.

Sportello is also a bakery/take-out restaurant, so there are six desserts. We stuck with chocolate. The first, chocolate budino ($8): pudding in a crust of exquisite chocolate cookie crumbs, flawed only by a little too much sea salt. Chocolate ginger cake ($8) was more like chocolate spice cake, but with an exquisite balance of chocolate and spice, mascarpone underneath, and a few shreds of Asian pear on one side, candied ginger on the other.

"Sportello" means "counter" in Italian, and that's exactly what you'll find — long, white ones, at which you'll find yourself seated right next to fellow diners. The odd layout makes service tricky, but the servers have mastered it. You get to your seat by going behind the cash register and counter of the bakery, and so does your server, sometimes. Water is frequently refilled, and our server was knowledgeable without losing the informality of the place — present without hovering.

The atmosphere at lunch is more active, though on a recent early Friday night visit, the crowds were kept at bay. (Drink seems to be doing better.) The diners are young, and if they don't know everything about the food, they know what they like by the time they are finished eating. The background music runs to remixes of '70s and '80s hits, which nicely crosses several generation gaps. Does this prove that Lynch's full-tilt destination restaurant will thrive even in these difficult times? It's hard to say, but even if the answer is no, it's worth a trip to Sportello.

Robert Nadeau can be reached

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