Faccia Brutta’s opening menu is a seafood-focused look at coastal Italy
The name means “ugly face”, but Faccia Brutta, the Newbury Street restaurant of Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer’s JK Food Group, is inspired by enticing locales: sun-drenched coastal Italian destinations like Sicily and Sardinia.
The sibling of the ever-popular Toro, Coppa and Little Donkey debuted in late May 2022, with Bar Pallino, his downstairs natural wine bar, 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 few lounges; the result is a spacious and attractive restaurant downstairs, a front patio that will be a hit all summer long, and a dark, intimate bar below.
While the group have already made Italian – Coppa have been a mainstay in the South End for a dozen years – Faccia Brutta are targeting different regions and providing new opportunities for long-serving members of the team. Coppa is a wood-fired pizza and pasta restaurant that’s meant to look like a place you’d find on a dead-end Roman street; Faccia Brutta offers seafood in various Italian coastal traditions. It’s a place to let “super-talented” chef Brian Rae spread his wings, says Oringer, after more than five years in Coppa’s tiny kitchen. Rae’s resume also includes substantial experience cooking seafood under Rick Moonen — known for his advocacy of sustainable seafood — in Las Vegas.
Downstairs, Bar Pallino offers longtime JK Food Group beverage director Jodie Battles, a partner in the two new venues, a playground to “go deeper into Italy and find all those tiny [natural wine] producers it has relationships with,” says Oringer, noting that Little Donkey has been pushing natural wines since day one.
Here’s a look at some of the dishes on Faccia Brutta’s opening menu.
“We wanted to have a big crudo section on the menu that was substantial enough to keep it interesting,” says Oringer. “We wanted to show respect for the Italian tradition but also give a little spice to certain dishes. especially to have [Oringer’s sushi-focused restaurant] United all these years, it’s hard to just serve sliced fish with olive oil and salt, so we came up with Italian variations on things.
Antipasti with vegetables
A nod to the Copley Square Farmers Market a few blocks away, Vegetable Antipasti features a variety of produce. “When you are on the coast in Italy, so many people eat raw vegetables; that’s how a lot of people start dining,” says Oringer. “We wanted it to be funky stuff and yummy stuff that would be great in dips” – dips like caponata. “I traveled to Sicily and I love a good caponata,” says Oringer. We put a lot of celery and cocoa powder in it to give it an unpredictable finish. It’s not just about Italy: the roasted peppers are inspired by Turkey with Urfa pepper and feta cheese.
Burrata is one of Faccia Brutta’s small plates, a selection that includes dishes such as mozzarella sticks with caviar; Roman-style pan-fried artichokes; and whipped ricotta with Sardinian honey and snow peas. “Everyone 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 roasted apricots, caramelized and chilled to become a sweet and sour condiment that is “not quite a mostarda”.
Faccia Brutta’s pasta selection includes less common shapes, such as pansotti, a traditional Ligurian filled pasta, and trottole, tight curls, made here with squid ink.
Homemade gluten-free pasta – made in a separate kitchen – is also available, which Oringer is “super excited about”; it can be substituted in any pasta dish. “My daughter has celiac disease, and the pandemic has allowed me to really have time to play with her. [gluten-free] pasta,” explains Oringer, and fortunately the layout of the restaurant allows for dedicated space.
Grilled lobster scituat
Faccia Brutta’s meat and seafood dishes include a grilled half lobster brushed with Calabrian chili 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 have some of those items that would be harder to sell in the South End or Central Square.
Sorrentine in the oven
“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 ice cream is homemade and the lemon curd is a combination of Meyer lemons and yuzu, the latter adding “oomph”. Other desserts on the menu include a Sicilian-style ice cream sandwich with hazelnut ice cream on brioche; a plate of fresh fruit and sorbets; and baci di dama, Italian cookies with Nutella.
While Bar Pallino focuses on natural wines, cocktails take center stage upstairs at Faccia Brutta. “We keep 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-school spritz, a modern twist suited to the Back Bay area where we have so many spas and gyms.” The Orangie Fizz, meanwhile, is Brown’s take on a mix between a classic silver fizzy cocktail and an Aperol spritz. Aquafaba – the dehydrated chickpea powder that froths 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.