Because Newton is primarily a residential city, there are large stretches of the community that have little in the way of restaurants. And perhaps because of the residential nature of Newton, some of the restaurants are in pretty interesting spots, from places plopped into the middle of neighborhoods (like Francesca's in Nonantum) to eateries hidden away on side streets (Lee's Burger Palace in Newton Centre) to restaurants that simply pop up in spots where you wouldn't expect them to, like Fiorella's (the focus of this review), which sits across from a huge cemetery in a semi-industrial area near where Waltham, Newton, and Watertown meet. But odd location aside, Fiorella's is a local favorite that features Italian food made from scratch and a red sauce that tastes like it's straight out of Boston's North End.
Located in a rather plain stucco building that doesn't exactly have signage that screams out "restaurant," Fiorella's is very easy to miss. The interior is a different story, however, with a dimly-lit and somewhat romantic (though occasionally loud) dining area partitioned off from an open kitchen that more or less dominates the place. The kitchen can be a sight to behold, with chefs and cooks creating all kinds of dishes in full view of patrons, occasionally getting people's attention with vivid open flames emanating from various plates they are working on. Toward the back of the kitchen is a white-hot wood-burning brick oven that is used for making pizzas and other dishes. A patio gives diners the option to eat outside at Fiorella's during the warmer months.
Fiorella's is generally a casual spot that leans more toward Southern Italian fare than Northern Italian. Starters (in addition to the complementary breadsticks that have a terrific garlic taste and come with their outstanding red sauce) include an enormous arancini that has lots of cheese mixed in with the slightly sticky rice; a freshly-made Caesar salad that has the classic nutty flavor of anchovies; an Italian wedding soup that contains perfectly herbed tiny meatballs along with noodles and spinach; and a wild mushroom barley soup (on special, so not always available) that has a rich tomato base and a pleasant sweetness coming from the basil that is mixed into it.
Entrees at Fiorella's include a wood-fired pizza that, while a bit on the thick and doughy side, has a perfect char coming from the intense heat of the oven and a delicious mix of cheeses and homemade sauce. Other entress are a chicken basilico that has an amazing array of tastes coming from the basil, mushrooms, garlic, and pecorino romano cheese; a veal saltimbocca that is sauteed with mushrooms and sage in a marsala sauce and has some of the best-tasting prosciutto that this writer has had in the entire Boston area; and a baked scrod that is cooked in the wood-burning oven and coated with seasoned sherry cracker-crumbs. Desserts include tiramisu, apple crisp, and chocolate chip cannolis, while the drink list features a variety of beers, wines, and martinis. A children's menu can also be found at Fiorella's, which indeed seems to be a popular place with families.
Dining in a rather anonymous stucco building across the street from a cemetery may not sound like everyone's idea of a memorable night out, but one taste of the food at Fiorella's may change some minds about that. It may be in a rather weird location, but lovers of comfort food (Italian style) really should look into heading over to this great local favorite near the southern banks of the Charles River.
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