It’s a Family Affair
La Romagnoli & Son
by Rachel Travers
Photographs by Katie Noble
In “Spilling the Beans” we love sharing secrets: Where are you eating? What did you just discover? Word of silky-smooth fresh pasta in Watertown became a buzz and it wasn’t long before we discovered Anna Romagnoli at her new La Romagnoli & Son on Mt. Auburn Street. Familiar name? You bet. Anna’s parents, Margaret and Franco, were pioneers in the early days of WGBH cooking shows. Her father was a freelance cinematographer, the first cameraman for WGBH in 1959, and her mother was a reporter. Family lore had it that her parents hosted a New Year’s Eve dinner with WGBH people. “My parents had cooked this amazing meal—both of them were great cooks. And though I think it came up as a joke, everyone said, ‘Hey, you guys should do what Julia did.’ And they became part of the first wave of TV chefs.”
Their popular Faneuil Hall restaurant, Romagnoli’s Table, had a full house every night for 10 years—which is all a long-winded way of saying that Anna Romagnoli, who was head chef there for the last three years, was more than well-groomed in authentic Italian regional cuisine. Working as a chef in Tuscany for a full year only added to Anna’s knowledge and skills.
Her return to her hometown of Watertown precipitated this venture, which is barely a year old. The shop is all about the deli case first and foremost, and the freezer and fresh entrees second. Don’t be fooled by the scattering of tables—you definitely can eat here, but that was actually an afterthought. However, do not let this stop you from ordering a fresh made-on-the-spot panino or pasta dish to eat immediately.
Anna’s antipasti are classic, drawing from Rome and Tuscany, and some of them are hers and hers alone. “My chard packages are stuffed with prosciutto and fontina bechamel and walnuts—they’re heavenly and unique and a take on something I learned in Tuscany,” says Romagnoli. Suppli (rice balls) are fried and mixed with cheese; the white one is made with saffron and nutmeg, the red ones are bolognese. Fresh homemade mozzarella is always available, as are some staples like polenta cakes with gorgonzola. Occasionally you might find Sicilian eggplant—fried eggplant with pine nuts, raisins and caramelized onions.
It works that way with entrees as well. Certain items like stuffed cabbage leaves, stuffed breast of chicken or the torta rustica—a giant frittata with sausage—are always available. And then there are the “sometimes” items: seafood risotto or roasted Cornish hens.
But it’s the pasta, the item that drew us there in the first place, that is a real draw. Made fresh daily and always air-dried so the results are light and smooth, never gummy, is an assortment of fettucine, cappelini and pappardelle—in egg, spinach and saffron. One additional flavor, like cracked pepper or mint, is added every week. There’s not much pasta left at day’s end so you might have to turn to the frozen items: ravioli, tortellini, lasagna (three versions) and an assortment of fresh/frozen sauces.
Simplicity and freshness are Anna’s mantras. Some things are sourced locally, others—like olives and semolina—come to her direct from Italy, so the authenticity is evident when you taste her food.
The shop is nestled among the many Armenian groceries on Mt. Auburn Street in Watertown, a bustling shopping area but not one where you’d expect to find an authentic Italian enclave. Even her signage is subtle, making her harder to spot, but we love the “& Son” she added to the name of the shop.
Paulo is Anna’s 10-year-old son and he’s already learning his chops at home, refining the “taste and the finish” on an improvised guacamole, or making a Spanish omelet. He got marquee billing when Anna was preparing to open and asked her young son to sweep up the sidewalk outside. Not only did he sweep, but bucket by bucket, he washed the sidewalk down, mimicking the care the Italians take with their establishments. Anna said, “That’s it, kid—it’s ‘and Son.’ You just proved that this is your business, too.”
Nice to know the Romagnoli name will have a nice long run again.
La Romagnoli & Son
584 Mt. Auburn Street
Rachel Travers is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer who contributes regularly to the Boston Globe and Edible Boston, as well as many other regional, national and online venues. She can be reached at alphasoup2@ aol.com.