“Table for one”, I requested, in the restaurant’s front window, open to the street, so I could enjoy watching the early evening foot traffic. I travel with an openness to new experiences, which includes figuring out the “vibe” of the city I’m in. I observe what I can, getting to know the people who work, live and visit the area.
Boston’s Little Italy, with its abundance of shops and restaurants, had been recommended by a former local, a friend who spent three years in Boston, earning her law degree. I was pleased with the mismatch of first time visitors, trying to find their way, seasoned tourists, and locals grabbing a bite on their way home, or picking up carryout. A group of tourists were making good use of the local bike share, a quick way to see the city.
On my way into the area I’d made my way along the narrow, tightly packed streets. I drove back and forth, going several blocks without coming across an open spot. Street after street was marked with signs declaring “Resident Parking”! What a fun place to live, but I’d go broke trying out a new restaurant every night. As a visitor, I just wanted to find a place to ditch my rental car and wander, to see where I’d end up, and get on with discovering whatever I was meant to discover! I passed up on a small surface lot, when the $25 price tag seemed to be dreamt up before my eyes, just for me, the uncertain tourist.
After another 20 minutes of searching for a meter, or less expensive lot, I gave in, and pulled into the next garage I saw. It sat under a building that was a mix of residential, retail and service space. A spa and exercise space took up almost an entire floor of the building. (Thanks to the kind young woman at the front desk, who allowed me in later that evening, just minutes before closing, to use the restrooms.) Parking for one hr. was $10, two – three hours was $30, and so on. It looked like I’d either be grabbing a quick bite, or settling in for a few hours to relax and get to know the city. (On the way out, hours later, the sky is a striking dark blue, above this stunning bridge. )
As I wander about in my travels, without a formal tour guide, and sometimes without even a brochure of the city, I don’t always know exactly what’s in front of me. In a way, it’s a great way to see a new place, allowing the city to make a very sensory, visceral, impression, all on its own. A visitor can breathe in the smells (lots of tomato, olive oil, and garlic), listen to the sounds of the city (chattering in a constant multi-lingual dialogue), and indulge in a taste of the local cuisine (from cocktails, all the way through to dessert).
There is a danger, however, of missing out on what the city has to offer, without knowing what’s right there in front of you, or around the next corner. Google can step in and save the day, acting as a modern day “pocket guide”. A quick search confirms what I was detecting in the atmosphere, coming from the buildings, the statues & monuments, and the locally owned establishments. Boston has a rich social and political history; Little Italy has a strong religious presence.
On my way to the main strip of Little Italy, on one of the many narrow side streets, I stumbled upon an Italian Grocery – Salumeria Italiana – “Boston’s Best Italian Grocery”. I was tempted to grab a freshly baked loaf of Italian crusty bread, a bit of seasoned oil, some cheese and fruit, and a bottle of red wine, to retreat back to my hotel. But it was my last night in Boston, and there was a good chance it might be my last trip to this part of the country. I’d soon be turning the Boston, Providence, Connecticut and New Hampshire areas over to a new East Coast Regional Trainer. I was in no hurry for the new person to be onboarded, because I welcome the new experiences.
I knew I’d have no trouble finding food in this part of town. At Dolce Vita Restaurant I was greeted with “Welcome to my home”. The owner was pulling patrons in off the street, saying “Are you hungry? Come eat here; it is very, very good!”
“Welcome to Dolce Vita. This is my place! This is like my house. If you don’t like my food you don’t have to pay for it! We make anything and everything with a nice homey atmosphere. Make my Dolce Vita your home away from home.” ~ Franco Graceeffa, restaurant website
“Would you like some garlic bread or bruschetta?” I nodded my head, to confirm that I would enjoy both. He paused a minute, noting that I was seated alone. “How about I bring you just a taste of each?” A little later a large group of boyish men sat down at the next table. From the slices of conversation I overheard, they seemed to be gathered together in some kind of reunion, swapping stories of days past. They ordered the bruschetta, and a very large platter was brought to their long table; it was quickly devoured, along with several bottles of wine, crowding their table. The stories of their Boston youth continued.
After a relaxed dinner, sipping wine and nibbling on a cheese platter and the bruschetta, I was in no hurry to leave. The restaurant was in no hurry to move me along, so I remained in the front window, enjoying the parade of people, for a couple of hours. I didn’t leave my spot, but I felt like I was experiencing Little Italy, all the same.
The homey feel extended to the decor. Snapshots of “family”, including restaurant goers, were posted all around. Award-winning bottles of wine decorate the restaurant, encouraging fine indulgence, but you feel as though you are in the dining room of your (very wealthy, Italian) uncle. There was striking artwork on the walls, which I am working to learn more about.
Once I left the restaurant, I didn’t get far, before being drawn in by the long line of tourists streaming out of a little shop called Mike’s. I saw my dessert as soon as I entered the place – a pistachio cannoli. ( I stand corrected, in my wording. I was playfully scolded, by my dear Italian friend, for using the plural “cannoli” to refer to just one tasty treat. This problem is easily remedied by adding another to the pastry bag).
The drive out of Little Italy, and out of Boston, lets you know you are leaving a grand place. The bridges are beautiful! I had just a taste of the city while I was there, and I can’t wait to go back. I hope I have a chance to do so.
Join me on my next adventure,