If Cara fires up the pizza oven and prepares to open in Cambridge
Michael Lombardi, chef at SRV, one of Boston’s top Italian restaurants, loves the hyper-regional pasta dishes his South End eatery is known for, made in-house with freshly ground flours and artisan cheeses. But if Lombardi cooked for you at his house, he’d probably keep it simple and just bake a few pizzas in his backyard oven.
For the chef’s first solo restaurant, Si Cara, which opens next week in Cambridge’s central square, he’s leaning into that more laid-back comfort.
“I love pizza, and that’s sharing what I do at home with people,” Lombardi said.
Si Cara will debut on Monday, August 22 with a line of quick-cooking pizzas canottoseasonal snacks and sides, and a full bar focused on natural wines.
Canotto is a new wave style of Italian pie, similar to Neapolitan pizza but without the strict protected designation of origin rules for its ingredients. Meaning “life raft” in Italian, pizza canotto resembles a dinghy with puffy, airy edges and a center of rustic toppings.
“As I learned more about pizza at home, I discovered that this style exists. That’s exactly what I want to do: I really wanted that light, puffy crust,” Lombardi said.
It’s a home-style approach to pizza making that fits with Si Cara’s overall ethos, which translates to “yes, dear” as a tribute “to all the Nonnas out there,” the chef says. Growing up in the New Haven, Connecticut area, Lombardi sometimes heard this enthusiastic response when he or his cousins asked their Italian-American grandmother for a treat.
Among Si Cara’s initial offerings are a margherita pizza topped with piennolo tomatoes grown in the mineral-rich soil around Mount Vesuvius, cow’s milk mozzarella and basil; a burrata pie with speck and spinach; and crab and corn pizza with charred shallot and shiso. (Take a look at the opening dinner menu below.)
A Marra Forni gas pizza oven placed in Si Cara’s open kitchen puffs up pies in minutes. It will also cook sides like tender meatballs forno; and charred cantaloupe for a summer salad that ends with pine nuts, mango, prosciutto and ginger salmoriglio (a bright, herbaceous dressing from southern Italy). Jess Ngo, formerly of SRV, is the new spot’s head chef.
For starters, Si Cara will be opening nightly for full-service dining. Counter lunch will follow soon, likely in September, Lombardi added. The lunch menu will be different with only a handful of canotto pizzas available, as well as griddle pizza squares sold by the slice for an even faster take-out option. Sandwiches – including Italian charcuterie with pickled vegetables; meatball; and vegetarian options – on homemade focaccia, ciabatta and pizza dough “puccia” breads will also be lunchtime exclusives.
The full bar menu will be available during lunch as well as dinner. Si Cara General Manager Nicole LeClair, former manager and bartender of Lincoln Tavern, Hojoko and Townsman, has created new cocktails such as Italian Ice, with gin, limoncello, lillet and crushed ice; and Not An Espresso Martini, with vodka, a shot of ristretto, Cynar and crushed ice. LeClair also curates a succinct selection of mostly local beers, including the Italian-style Oxbow Luppolo pilsner; and a variety of all-natural wines by the glass and bottle.
Pizza and beer make an unbeatable combination, Lombardi acknowledges, but Si Cara is here to celebrate wine. “Natural wine is what’s happening in the beverage world right now,” he added, and LeClair’s choices pair just as well with food. By forgoing stemware in favor of utilitarian juice glasses, the robust wine program also fits the overall laid-back vibe of Si Cara.
By day, Si Cara is bright and lively, with windows overlooking the 30-seat patio on Massachusetts Avenue letting in plenty of natural light. At night, the glow fades to enhance the intimate atmosphere of the 50-seat bar-restaurant.
Si Cara is the first end-to-end project for restaurant design firm Stoughton 42 Architecture. Dark teal walls match the tiled floors of the custom Marra Forni, with contemporary details like reclaimed wood, brass, mirrors, and black metal framing. Line drawings by Pamela Maguire carry a playful theme of people (and pets) enjoying pizza throughout the small space. Creation of the Crownan agency based in New York and Northern Ireland, carried out the branding of Si Cara.
Lombardi has been planning his own restaurant on the ground floor of the new Market Central apartment building in Central Square since December 2020. There have been myriad construction delays, but it’s exciting to see it all finally come together, a he declared. Si Cara is located across from a municipal parking lot, next to the new Shōjō location under construction, on a busy block that includes New City Microcreamery and a location open soon Jaho coffee roasters. As such, it is not necessary to offer dessert and coffee from its small restaurant.
“I want to add value and be part of the neighborhood,” Lombardi said.
On Monday, August 22, Central Square will meet its new neighbor.
425 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, sicarapizza.com.
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