I walked into the newly renovated Wellesley Hills Papa Razzi at summer’s end and was greeted by Spring. The restaurant has undergone many changes, but the life-sized classical stone statue the staff says everyone calls “Spring” remains. Looking like a transplanted divine patroness of an Italianate garden, she survived the construction bustle to continue her reign over the front end of the restaurant, there to remind customers that some things are permanent.
Other things, however, are not. A welcome change is the increase in much-needed parking spaces, but Papa Razzi didn’t pull that asphalt real estate out of thin air. About those coveted parking spaces…you know that saying, “no pain, no gain”? Well, the extra spaces came about because another popular spot, Mark’s Pizza & Subs, was torn down to make room for minivans, BMWs, and the occasional Tesla. (See our post, “They paved the paradise that was Mark’s Pizza and put in a parking lot”.)
Dan Lederer, Marketing Coordinator for Newport Harbor, Papa Razzi’s parent company said, “Roughly twelve more spaces were created, however, with the way the new lot is designed it will allow for our valet company to take roughly 30 more cars more easily than ever before, preventing waits and back-ups.”
Some less surprising changes: the restaurant seats 250+ and the private dining room has space for 100; the bar area has tripled in size and the area now seats about 45; the patio area has been expanded to 44 seats and is expected to open soon; and the menu has been refreshed. As you walk in, take a look to the left at the bar area. No recessed can lighting there. Hanging domed lights lend a modern feel and give off a nice glow in the space where the long bar that seats about 25, and several tables and a couple small booths are scattered throughout the rest of the area. Other interior changes throughout are the floors and the furniture, all dark wood, as well as rectangular light fixtures that hang close to the ceiling.
In the bar area they serve their full lunch and dinner menu, of course, along with drink selections that include classic Italian cocktails such as a Bellini (Prosecco, and peach nectar) and their Negroni (Grand Ten gin, Campari, Carpano Antico vermouth). There are also seasonal cocktails and a selection of Italian microbrews along with wines, mostly Italian, some from California, which you can order by the bottle or in a 3- or 6-ounce pour. It’s entirely separate from the dining area giving it a very adults-only feel.
The food is what you’d expect from Papa Razzi because make no mistake, this is still an Italian restaurant that serves Italian food to customers looking for well-prepared classics like bruschetta, pasta fagioli soup, pizza, bolognese, linguine with meatballs, shrimp with cannellini beans, and chicken piccatta. Just picture all these dishes updated. A little less butter or cream here, a surprise ingredient or pairing there, and an emphasis on fresh ingredients throughout. You don’t have to ask your server if the mushrooms on the pizza are canned. They aren’t. You needn’t wonder if the parmesan cheese comes from a green plastic cylinder with sprinkle holes. It doesn’t. It’s real food for a sophisticated suburban family crowd that’s been to the North End and maybe even Italy itself, and knows what’s good.
With that in mind, Papa Razzi gives their Culinary Arts Director Kevin Dilibero (formerly of Pane e Vino, Providence) all the creative liberties he needs to keep things far from straying into a red-sauce/white tablecloth cliche of an Italian joint. The grilled salmon, breathtakingly fresh, was served with couscous, roasted vegetables from Verrill Farm in Concord, with a nutty pesto sauce made with pistachios instead of the usual pine nuts. There will be seasonal changes on the menu, so summer’s tomatoes will likely give way to autumn’s root vegetables, and the lobster tagliatelle with sweet creamed corn may drop the corn as it goes out of season, making way for new possibilities.
The chicken piccata one of our companion ordered for old time’s sake (“Aw, my mom used to make that”) is one of those Italian classics that Papa Razzi has lightened up a bit. A little less butter, paired with herb-roasted potatoes rather than a heavier mashed potato side, and simple green beans. No disrespect to your mom’s cooking if you eat every bite, right?
The fried mozzarella appetizer is technically more of a Spanish tapas thing, but hey, it’s mozzarella and it’s lightly fried and who doesn’t love that combination, so mangia, already. Because too much cheese is never enough we also ordered the burrata, sourced from Maplebrook Farm in North Bennington, Vermont. It was my first time trying this regional favorite of Puglia. It’s made by stretching curd into mozzarella and filling it with a creamy center. What you end up with is a mound of cheese, stretchy and shiny on the outside, which is then cut in half to reveal a soft center comprised of cream and strands of mozzarella. Scoop it up with Tuscan bread and top it with the fire-roasted grape tomatoes, arugula pistou and aged balsamic vinegar served alongside. It was fresh and light, and paired with the arugula and the beautifully ripe tomatoes it was a nice change from the standard mozzarella rounds and beefsteak tomatoes I’ve already had at least a few times over the summer.
The brined and grilled half chicken with wilted spinach and whipped Yukon Gold potatoes with lemon roasted garlic butter sauce was a very nicely done standard dish. The Yukon Golds were creamy as only Yukon Golds can be, and the spinach rounded out your basic protein, starch, vegetable kind of dinner. The meals are served as complete meals here, no a la carte this and that.
There are also gluten-free offerings such as chicken or veal Milanese; chicken piccata; and chicken or veal parmesan.
As for minuses, there were a few, especially given that we showed up on opening night. The server said she’d bring bread, but the bread never appeared; our meals were very slow to arrive, but the manager came out and chatted us up about it, so we didn’t feel left to languish. All the hard surfaces make for a pretty high sound level when the place is packed. Other than that, we left happy.
It’s still your neighborhood Papa Razzi. They can host a couple out on date night. They welcome the ladies-night-out crew. And a group of 40 raucous kids celebrating a successful sports season is no problem (but I’d recommend calling ahead if you’re planning to descend in that way). With the renovation, their goals were to stay current and keep their Wellesley and Newton clientele happy and coming back for more. I’d say they hit their mark.
Friday 11:30AM – 11:00PM
Saturday 11:00AM – 11:00PM
Sunday 11:00AM – 10:00PM