Good news for Boston during the continuing heatwave: The newest rooftop restaurant, Contessa, debuts tomorrow, June 22, at the recently opened hotel the Newbury Boston on Newbury Street. The elaborately decorated space serves Italian cuisine and comes from international mega-group Major Food Group.
Founders Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi, and Jeff Zalaznick have opened restaurants such as Carbone and Sadelle’s in New York City and beyond; while some of their restaurants repeat from city to city, this is the first Contessa, and it’s also the group’s first move into Massachusetts. (Soon, they’ll also open the more casual Parm at the Burlington Mall.)
Geared toward all-day dining, Contessa serves Italian food, particularly highlighting some northern Italian dishes — think tortellini en brodo, garganelle verdi al bolognese, and a hefty dry-aged bistecca fiorentina. There’s also a prosciutto selection from multiple regions; antipasti such as octopus agrodolce and beef carpaccio; and pizzas with toppings such as mushrooms or spicy clams. (While several Major Food Group restaurants serve Italian or Italian-American menus, this is the group’s first foray into pizza.) For dessert, there’s gelato, cakes, and Boston cream pie bomboloni. This is Boston, after all.
The drinks also lean Italian — lots of aperitivi, grappa, amari, and updated versions of classic cocktails, from Negronis to spritzes. The wine list features central and northern Italian selections but also options from France and North America.
Contessa is located adjacent to the Public Garden on Boston’s ritziest shopping street, inside of the hotel formerly known as the Taj and before that the Ritz-Carlton — one of the country’s first locations of the latter — newly revamped into the Newbury Boston by real estate and hospitality management company Highgate. Accordingly, the restaurant design is quite eye-catching, with major fancy restaurant from a fancy restaurant group atop a fancy hotel vibes. It’s by Ken Fulk, who also worked on the Las Vegas locations of Carbone and Sadelle’s, among many other unique spaces dripping with floral installations, bold tiling, and upholstered furniture that screams “luxury.” Fulk designed Contessa with three-martini lunches and high teas in mind, also drawing inspiration from northern Italian estates and Milanese designers. Diners will find plenty of marble, velvet, and floral touches, with a color palette heavy on rose and teal.
While Contessa isn’t identical to existing Major Food Group restaurants, reviews of some of the group’s other venues offer a glimpse into what Boston might expect from this newcomer: in a word, swankiness. As Eater’s team of New York critics wrote in a 2014 review of Carbone, the restaurant serves “gigantic, pricy, nuanced versions of Italian-American standards” punctuated by “a retro Palm Springs coolness.” It’s a “quintessential” spot, a must for out-of-towners. Carbone and its siblings tend to be beautiful, trendy, and scene-y. One of the other restaurants, the Grill, “is [New York City’s] only four-star ode to the past,” Eater NY critic Ryan Sutton wrote.
Boston is seeing a barrage of New York restaurateurs plant roots here these days, for better or worse (see also: Blue Ribbon Group taking over the former spaces of Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and the Hawthorne in Kenmore Square). While the city isn’t always immediately welcoming to outsiders — especially at a time when the pandemic has closed so many small, independent businesses — Bostonians familiar with Major Food Group’s venues in other cities are optimistic about its arrival here.
Contessa is open for cocktails and dinner service as of June 22, with breakfast, lunch, and brunch to follow in the coming weeks; reservations will be available via the restaurant’s website. Private dining for groups up to 25 will be available starting in the fall. Major Food Group is also behind all other food and beverage operations at the hotel, including the Street Bar, which opened in the spring.