The Gist: Putting an Italian spin on the "speakeasy" concept (parla means "speak" in Italian), this North End newcomer aims to be a hip alternative to the neighborhood's traditional, red sauce–driven Old World restaurants.
The Vibe: Kind of stunning. The very, very intimate dining room is a den of rough-hewn woods, filled with a soft golden glow from exposed filament bulbs and candlelit mason jars. Walls are lined with framed front pages of Prohibition-era newspapers and art that looks like it belongs in a flapper cabaret or a spiritualist cocktail lounge. On one visit the place pulsed with (non-cheesy) European house music, and unlike other eateries that all hammer the same dark-and-handsome-American-tavern take on the speakeasy style, Parla doesn't feel like it's trying too hard. Expect a wait without a reservation, though you might be able to snag a seat at the small copper bar.
Eat This: Even flash-fried, the burrata ($9) is supremely fresh, and an accompaniment of red pepper purée, eggplant caponata, pistachio crumbs and balsamic is fabulous and flavorful. We're grateful that portions are substantial, since we loved the braised lamb leg fettuccine ($22) with English peas and wild mushroom. Goat's milk panna cotta ($6) with rhubarb jam, (more) pistachio crumbs and almond biscotti is a fine finish.
Drink This: Parla serves beer, wine and cordials, and makes excellent use of what's available. That it doesn't have a full liquor license is somewhat ironic, considering the speakeasy-style approach. But you won't even miss it. The Dillinger Sidecar (rye with Solerno blood orange) and Bee Sting Julep ($10) with habanero honey-infused whiskey, were expertly prepared. We would have tried more, but for such a small space, attentiveness was spotty. Servers seemed very social around the bar - and not while in the course of grabbing a cocktail or a little extra water, since all our glasses remained empty for quite a while.
Skip This: Squid ink gnocchi ($24) was somewhat underwhelming, its wild boar Bolognese a bit bland and its "garlic bread purée" a cold, hummuslike smear that didn't add anything to the plate.
The Damage: Prices are reasonable, with entrees in the mid to low 20s offering fair, satisfying portions.
The Verdict: We like Parla; we want to love it. The space is cool, the vibe is right, the menu has great ideas and the neighborhood needs more of this (read: younger, hipper destinations). We'll come back, and with more time, confident execution and smoothed-out service, we hope to find it really speaking our language.
Parla, 230 Hanover St.; 617-367-2824