The Red Fox Restaurant & Lounge Brings Slick Vibes to North End

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The new Italian-American spot is a slickly gorgeous throwback to martini culture, wood-paneled nostalgia, and Frank Sinatra atmospherics.


That’s lasagna in the center. / Photo by Chris McIntosh.

In fable and folklore, foxes are often sly and cunning characters. Tricksters, even. Fitting then that the Red Fox Restaurant & Lounge, the North End’s newest modern Italian destination for pasta and martinis, sports a name that nods to this creature. Stepping from Commercial Street into the new subterranean restaurant feels almost like a trick of the eyes. How did you walk from 2024 into a glammed-up restaurant thirty years in the past, with wood-paneled walls, and red booths, and fringed lampshades? Chef Jonathan Varela is a sly fox with his menu, too, knowing when to hem close to homey, traditional recipes, and when to pull the wool over your eyes with unexpected ingredients. When the spot with its separate forthcoming martini bar in the back opens this week, it’ll be a place for meals and mischief.

The sixth venture from the All Day Hospitality Group—the restaurant group from second-generation restauranteur Nick Frattaroli—feels at once familiar and refreshing. Sure, Italian food in the North End is perhaps not groundbreaking, and All Day already does it beautifully with both Ciao Roma and Tony & Elaine’s. The latter boasts a similar nostalgic vibe too, based on the red-sauce restaurants where Frattaroli’s parents used to work. But if Tony & Elaine’s nods to where his folks worked, the Red Fox is more like where they might’ve played in the ’70s and ’80s. Like the kind of space adults flock to for cocktails and plates of rigatoni after dropping the kids off with the family.

Photo by Assembly Designs

Like Frattaroli, Mike Wyatt, the director of operations at All Day and managing partner at 60-seat the Red Fox, grew up in East Boston eating Italian food and working in Italian restaurants. The Italian/Italian-American concept comes naturally to both of them, so why fight it? Particularly when it’s executed with this much style, in a “sexy basement spot,” as Wyatt puts it. Once home to the restaurant Il Molo, Assembly Design Studio completely reinvented the space over about sixth months, filling it with wood and brick illuminated by dramatic mood lighting. Everywhere is red, from the tufted down-lit base of the bar, to seating, and vintage lampshades. “The North End is obviously busy,” Wyatt says. “It’s touristy and a huge hit in the summer. But over the past 15 to 20 years, it’s gotten a little stale. So we’re trying to breathe in new life.”

The proof is in chef Jonathan Varela’s menu. While “modern Italian” sounds a little vague, for Varela it means “a celebration of Italian culture coming into America,” he says. “It’s a really good way to showcase some of the dishes that are not being shown as much.” Here, offerings are split into antipasti, pasta, secondi (larger offerings), and contorni (sides) of broccolini and potato. Of the antipasti plates, there’s classic shrimp cocktail, fried dough balls (a/k/a zeppole) served with prosciutto and honey, a simple tuna crudo with lemon and olive oil, plus arancini made with Caciocavallo, a cheese from Italy’s southern regions.

The Red Fox menu

Other antipasti are unexpected, per Varela. Take the strangolapreti, which means “priest stranglers”—an evocative image, especially for a restaurant that, as Wyatt notes, would easily fit into the 1990 mob flick Goodfellas. Common in Italy’s Trentino province, the pasta has a dumpling-like texture and is made of ricotta, spinach, and breadcrumbs, plus a dash of nutmeg. Varela serves the dish with the traditional brown butter and sage, though he shakes the preparation up a bit. “I’m frying them, which gives a little crispy texture on the outside and really soft, light inside,” he says. “That’s one of my favorite dishes.” On the other hand, he knows when not to mess with simplicity, like with the classic clams casino—little more than clams cooked in white wine with garlic and parsley stems, then added to a mixture of bacon and breadcrumbs, and baked in shells. It’s such an Italian-American staple that you can almost hear Frank Sinatra as you dig into them.

Photo by Assembly Designs

The seven-plate pasta section is more playful with the cuisine’s traditions. Most pasta dishes are handmade and hand-cut, a painstaking process that takes about an hour to make ten portions. It’s a labor of love Varela learned while working under Evan Funke—one of the best pasta makers in the states, he says—at Los Angeles’s Felix Tattoria for about three years before moving to Boston about a year ago. There’s orecchiette, served with a pesto remixed with pistachio for added earthiness. He makes malloreddus the traditional way with saffron, and serves it with a mushroom ragu. The rich sauce stews for about five hours, and is a mix of porcini, cremini, and oyster mushrooms. The lobster ravioli, too, is a labor of love. “We make a lobster mousse, and we sweat some leeks and fold the leeks into the mousse, and also add chopped up lobster pieces to it with a little bit of tarragon,” he says. The sauce is a silky combination of lobster stock, lobster butter, and chives for a kick.

The secondi plates, meanwhile, are feasts for the eyes as much as the belly. Take the lasagna, which isn’t baked in a basic sheet pan, but as a roll—seeing a plate with five upright rolls of lasagna headed your way might catch you by surprise. The seafood risotto, too, is a bounty of mussels, clams, and shrimp, strikingly served with a half lobster on top. Less extravagantly presented is the bistecca alla fiorentina, a behemoth bite of bold flavors that sees a 32-to-40-ounce steak served with classic accompaniments of arugula and parmesan. Tempting as it may be to house down the main plates, it’s worth saving room for dessert—particularly Varela’s tiramisu specialty.

Photo by Chris McIntosh

Photo by Assembly Designs

While the back martini lounge is still in flux—it’ll likely be a prix-fixe cocktail experience like All Day Hospitality sibling Farmacia—Varela is stoked about straying from the Italian concept for the bar bites, though he’s keeping mum on the details. For now, though, “We envision people sharing appetizers and a couple of pastas and then one or two of the stuff for two with martinis,” Wyatt says of the atmosphere. Besides date nights, the restaurant will be casual enough for folks from the neighborhood to hit the bar on a Tuesday night for negronis and quick bite of marinated and house-ground short rib, pork shoulder, and guanciale meatballs, too.

Who knows how the rest of the neighborhood will continue transforming over the next few years. But once the Red Fox opens, there will be a moody getaway after sundown, the kind of slick place that’s perfect for nocturnal foxes on a Saturday night.

326 Commercial St., Boston, redfoxnorthend.com; Open seven days a week, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; the bar is open seven days a week, from 5 p.m. to midnight.

Photo by Assembly Designs

Photo by Chris McIntosh

Photo by Chris McIntosh

Photo by Chris McIntosh

The Red Fox menu

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