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An exterior of a restaurant with a red awning, lush green plans on either side of the front doors, and floor to ceiling windows pulled back to show diners sitting at tables inside.
Prima in Charlestown.
Assembly Design Studio

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One of Boston’s Most Legendary Restaurant Spaces Gets New Life as a Swanky Italian Steakhouse

Prima makes its splashy debut in Charlestown, at the former home of Todd English’s Olives

Erika Adams is the editor of Eater Boston.

Charlestown’s 10 City Square holds a special place in Boston restaurant history. For nearly two decades, it was the site of notorious celebrity chef Todd English’s landmark restaurant Olives, at one time a line-inducing spot that drew people to Charlestown from all over the city. After a subsequent turn as Legal Oysteria — an Italian restaurant run by the ubiquitous seafood chain Legal — and years of pandemic vacancy, the building is once again drawing crowds of eager diners.

The crew behind Charlestown hangouts Monument and Waverly — as well as a small South Boston empire that includes brunch hotspot Lincoln and Italian restaurant Capo — has launched Prima, an Italian steakhouse with veal chops, piles of pasta, a mozzarella bar, and a dream to once again become a restaurant that everyone can’t stop talking about.

For the resurrection, the restaurant group tapped Erica and Michael Diskin of Assembly Design Studio. The two groups have a long-running partnership that dates back to the design of Lincoln a decade ago. (Some of Assembly Design Studio’s other projects have included chef Jason Santos’ spots Buttermilk & Bourbon and Citrus & Salt, as well as restaurants further afield like the acclaimed Shipwright’s Daughter in Mystic, Connecticut.)

The front dining room was designed with reclaimed wood, leather, cracked subway tiles, and other elements to make the space feel aged, in a sophisticated way. “We wanted it to feel old but not shabby, like a piece of Boston that had been there forever,” Erica says.

A wood-paneled host stand, the wood-accented bar on the left, and small booths with low-hanging lamplight on the right.
Inside Prima’s front dining room.
Assembly Design Studio
Two-top tables and chairs set with dishes and glassware are lined up along a dark wood back wall accented with arched mirrors. Assembly Design Studio
Sunlight streams into the front dining area from large, floor to ceiling windows. Assembly Design Studio
A low-lit, wood-filled dining room with a large bar with wraparound seating in the middle and then booths and small tables on either side of the bar. Assembly Design Studio

Head down a long hallway, past the kitchen, and you’ll end up in the Rose Room, a second dining area that switches up the old-world feel for something more sultry. The room, which was previously a tiny, tucked-away private dining area, was a challenge to redesign, Erica says. “How do you make the worst seat in the house the best?” Step into the room now and there’s a pink marble fireplace, an eight-seat bar with a matching pink countertop, and plush, rose booths with fringed lamps hanging overhead. (It can be rented out as a private dining room, but is otherwise open for regular dinner service.)

“It was supposed to be a turnkey restaurant project,” the group’s culinary director Nicholas Dixon says with a laugh. “And then it turned into a very long, detailed project.”

A small, low-ceilinged room with an ornate bar on the left and booths with fringed lamps on the right.
The Rose Room.
Assembly Design Studio
A corner perspective in the Rose Room, with plush red chairs visible in the foreground and the intimate bar visible in the background. Assembly Design Studio
A red banquette and covered red chairs with fringe detailing at the bottom. Assembly Design Studio

Chef Jacob Mendros, who has worked everywhere from former fine-dining legend L’Espalier to Loco Taqueria and Oyster Bar, which is backed by the same owners as Prima, leads a menu that includes pasta, pizzas (made in Olives’ original pizza oven), seafood, and steaks carved from their in-house butchery downstairs. Mendros was also adamant that the restaurant needed a mozzarella bar — “He was like, I’ll do this project, but I want the mozzarella,” Dixon says — and the resulting menu section includes fresh mozzarella balls, stracciatella, and creamy ricotta. Marissa Hart, Capo’s pastry chef, dreamed up the desserts, which include gigantic cannoli, strawberry tiramisu, and more.

A large steak sliced up and arranged on an oval white plate, with a steak knife balanced on the side of the dish.
A tomahawk steak with rosemary salsa verde and a mushroom carpaccio drizzled with goat cheese crema.
Assembly Design Studio
A close-up photo of a white bowl with a pile of white, creamy cheese drizzled with herbs and olive oil on one side and cut wedges of figs on the other side.
A scoop of stracciatella paired with glazed figs.
Assembly Design Studio
A bowl filled with a tangle of thick, long noodles slicked in an orange sauce and garnished with mint leaves.
A bowl of pici pasta, with thick, hand-rolled noodles slicked in a spicy sauce.
Assembly Design Studio

Other key players in the opening include managing partner Jon Sweeney, who oversees all three of the group’s Charlestown restaurants between Monument, Waverly, and Prima; wine director Jeronimo Ramales, a longstanding Capo veteran; and general manager Andrew Colgan, who formerly managed the dining room at Monument and Waverly.

Dixon is aiming to pull off a dining experience that pays homage to Olives and the place it holds in the city’s restaurant history, he says. “When I was 20, I was a line cook in the city, and people would talk about Olives, and how great of a restaurant Olives was, and that there was always a line to get into Olives,” Dixon says. “I just always remember that being, like, one of my first [moments of] what is that place?”

It was also an early training ground for many of Boston’s current bold-faced restaurant names, including Neptune Oyster owner Jeff Nance, celebrity chef and restaurateur Tiffani Faison, and Michael Serpa, the chef and owner behind seafood spots Select Oyster Bar, Little Whale, and Atlántico.

“It once was a great restaurant,” Dixon says. “The neighborhood needs a great restaurant [again].”

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