The name means “ugly face,” but Faccia Brutta, the Newbury Street restaurant from Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer’s JK Food Group, draws inspiration from attractive locales: sun-soaked coastal Italian destinations like Sicily and Sardinia.
The sibling to the ever-popular Toro, Coppa, and Little Donkey debuted in late May 2022, along with Bar Pallino, its natural wine bar offshoot downstairs, but the venues have been in the works since before the pandemic. The project included a gut renovation of a Back Bay space that previously housed a couple of salons; the result is a spacious, attractive restaurant on the ground level, a front patio sure to be a hit all summer, and a dark, intimate bar below.
While the group has done Italian before — Coppa’s been a South End mainstay for a dozen years — Faccia Brutta targets different regions and brings new opportunities to longtime team members. Coppa is a wood-fired pizza and pasta joint that’s supposed to feel like a place you’d find on a dead-end Roman street; Faccia Brutta features seafood in various coastal Italian traditions. It’s a place to let the “super talented” chef Brian Rae spread his wings, says Oringer, after over five years in Coppa’s tiny kitchen. Rae’s resume also includes substantial seafood experience cooking under Rick Moonen — known for sustainable seafood advocacy — in Las Vegas.
Downstairs, Bar Pallino gives JK Food Group’s longtime beverage director Jodie Battles, a partner in both new venues, a playground to “reach deeper into Italy and find all these tiny [natural wine] producers she has relationships with,” says Oringer, noting that Little Donkey has highlighted natural wines since day one.
Here’s a closer look at some of the dishes on Faccia Brutta’s opening menu.
“We wanted to have a large crudo section on the menu, substantial enough to stay interesting,” says Oringer. “We wanted to show respect for the Italian tradition but also wanted to put a little bit of a spin on some dishes. Especially having [Oringer’s sushi-focused restaurant] Uni all these years, it’s hard to just serve sliced fish with olive oil and salt, so we came up with some Italian-esque variations on things.”
A nod to the Copley Square Farmers Market a few blocks away, the vegetable antipasti showcases a variety of produce. “When you’re on the coast in Italy, so many people are eating raw vegetables; it’s the way a lot of people start dinner,” says Oringer. “We wanted it to be some funky things and some delicious things that would be great in dips” — dips like caponata. “I’ve traveled around Sicily and love a good caponata,” says Oringer. We put plenty of celery and cocoa powder in it so it has an unpredictable finish.” It’s not all about Italy: The roasted peppers get some Turkish inspiration with Urfa pepper and feta.
Burrata is one of Faccia Brutta’s small plates, a selection that includes dishes such as mozzarella sticks with caviar; Roman-style fried artichokes; and whipped ricotta with Sardinian honey and sugar snaps. “Everybody in the world loves burrata,” says Oringer, noting that the restaurant uses a buffalo milk burrata that is “so delicious as is” that the team wanted to keep the preparation simple. The dish features apricots that are roasted, caramelized, and chilled to become a sweet and sour condiment that’s “not quite a mostarda.”
Faccia Brutta’s pasta selection includes some less common shapes, such as pansotti, a traditional Ligurian filled pasta, and trottole, tight curls, made here with squid ink.
House-made gluten-free pasta — made in a separate kitchen — is also available, which Oringer is “super psyched” about; it can be substituted into any pasta dish. “My daughter has celiac disease, and the pandemic allowed me to really have the time to play around with [gluten-free] pastas,” says Oringer, and fortunately the restaurant’s layout allows for a dedicated space.
Grilled Scituate lobster
Faccia Brutta’s meat and seafood entrees include a grilled half lobster basted in Calabrian chile butter. “It’s funny that we live in Boston, but you don’t see lobster on that many menus,” says Oringer. “It’s so expensive. I think one of the luxuries of being on Newbury Street is that it allows us to be able to have some of these items that would be harder sells in the South End or Central Square.”
“The lemons in Italy are so fragrant, so phenomenal,” says Oringer, so the team knew they needed a lemon dessert and landed on a play on a baked Alaska. The vanilla gelato is made in-house, and the lemon curd is a combination of Meyer lemons and yuzu, the latter adding “some punch.” Other desserts on the menu include a Sicilian-style ice cream sandwich with hazelnut gelato on brioche; a chilled fruit and sorbet plate; and baci di dama, Italian cookies with Nutella.
While Bar Pallino focuses on natural wines, cocktails take the starring role upstairs at Faccia Brutta. “We’re keeping it in the classic vein of what Italian cocktails are,” says bar manager Jan Brown, including variations on Negronis and spritzes. The refreshing Spa Day, for example, “is basically a riff on the old-style spritz, a modern variation tailored to the Back Bay area where we have so many spas and gyms.” The Orangie Fizz, meanwhile, is Brown’s take on a blend between a classic silver fizz cocktail and an Aperol spritz. Aquafaba — the dehydrated chickpea powder that gives a frothiness to cocktails — replaces the egg whites that would be present in a typical silver fizz.
Faccia Brutta and Bar Pallino, located at 278 Newbury Street, Boston, open at 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Faccia Brutta reservations are available via Resy.