Restaurants

Si Cara is firing up the pizza oven, getting ready to open this month in Cambridge

Here’s a sneak peek at the menu for SRV chef Michael Lombardi’s first solo venture.

The dining room at Si Cara in Cambridge
An intimate, casual restaurant from SRV chef Michael Lombardi, Si Cara opens this month in Central Square. C. McIntosh Photo

Michael Lombardi — chef at SRV, one of Boston’s best Italian restaurants — loves the hyper-regional pasta dishes that his South End spot is known for, made in-house with fresh-milled flours and artisan cheeses. But if Lombardi were cooking for you at his house, he’d probably keep things simple and just make a couple pizzas in his backyard oven. 

For the chef’s first solo restaurant, Si Cara, which opens next week in Cambridge’s Central Square, he’s leaning into that more casual comfort.

“I love pizza, and this is sharing what I do at home with people,” Lombardi said.

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Si Cara will debut on Monday, Aug. 22, with a lineup of quick-fired pizza canotto, seasonally driven snacks and sides, and a full bar with a focus on natural wines. 

Canotto is a new-wave style of Italian pie, similar to Neapolitan pizza but without the strict protected-designation-of-origin rules for its ingredients. Meaning “life raft” in Italian, pizza canotto resembles an inflatable dinghy with puffy, airy edges and a center of rustic toppings. 

“As I learned more about pizza at home, I discovered this style existed. It’s exactly what I want to make: I really wanted that light, puffy crust,” Lombardi said.

It’s a homestyle approach to pizza-making that fits the overall ethos of Si Cara, which translates to “yes, dear” as an homage “to all the Nonnas out there,” the chef said. Growing up in the New Haven, Conn., area, Lombardi occasionally heard this doting response when he or his cousins asked for a treat from their Italian-American grandmother.

Among Si Cara’s initial offerings is margherita pizza topped with with piennolo tomatoes grown in the mineral-rich soil around Mount Vesuvius, cow’s milk mozzarella, and basil; a burrata pie with speck and spinach; and crab and corn pizza with charred scallion and shiso. (Take a look at the opening dinner menu below.)

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A gas-powered Marra Forni pizza oven positioned in Si Cara’s open kitchen puffs up the pies in just a few minutes. It will also fire sides like tender meatballs al forno; and charred cantaloupe for a summery salad that’s finished with pine nuts, mango, prosciutto, and ginger salmoriglio (a bright and herbaceous dressing from southern Italy). Jess Ngo, formerly of SRV, is the new spot’s chef de cuisine.

To start, Si Cara will open nightly for full-service dinner. Counter-service lunch is soon to follow, likely in September, Lombardi added. The lunch menu will differ with just a handful of pizza canotto available, along with squares of sheet-pan pizza sold by the slice for an even quicker grab-and-go option. Sandwiches — including Italian-style cold cuts with pickled vegetables; meatball; and vegetarian options — on house-baked focaccia, ciabatta, and pizza dough “puccia” breads will also be lunchtime exclusives. 

The full bar menu will be available during lunch as well as dinner. Si Cara general manager Nicole LeClair, a former manager and bartender with the likes of Lincoln Tavern, Hojoko, and Townsman, created new cocktails such as Italian Ice, with gin, limoncello, lillet, and shaved ice; and Not An Espresso Martini, with vodka, a shot of ristretto, Cynar, and shaved ice. LeClair is also curating a succinct selection of mostly local beers, including the Italian-style pilsner Oxbow Luppolo; and a variety of all-natural wines by the glass and bottle. 

The open kitchen at Si Cara in Cambridge
A custom, gas-powered Marra Forni pizza oven anchors the open kitchen at Si Cara. – C. McIntosh Photo

Pizza and beer makes for an unbeatable combination, Lombardi acknowledges, but Si Cara is here to celebrate wine. “Natural wine is what’s going on in the beverage world right now,” he added, and LeClair’s picks make just as ideal a match with the food. By forgoing stemware in favor of utilitarian juice glasses, the robust wine program fits Si Cara’s overall casual vibe, too.

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By day, Si Cara is bright and lively, with windows overlooking the 30-seat patio on Massachusetts Avenue letting in plenty of natural light. Come nighttime, the glow dims to enhance the intimate ambiance of the 50-seat bar and restaurant. 

Si Cara is the first start-to-finish project for Stoughton restaurant design firm 42 Architecture. Dark teal walls match the tiling on the custom Marra Forni, with contemporary details like reclaimed wood, brass, mirrors, and black metal framing. Line drawings by Pamela Maguire carry a playful theme of people (and pets) enjoying pizza throughout the small space. Crown Creative, an agency based in New York City and Northern Ireland, did Si Cara’s branding.

Lombardi has been envisioning his own restaurant on the ground floor of Central Square’s new Market Central apartment building since December 2020. There were myriad construction delays, but it’s been exciting to see it all finally come together, he said. Si Cara is situated in front of a municipal parking lot, next door to the under-construction new location of Shōjō, on a busy block that includes New City Microcreamery and a soon-to-open location of Jaho Coffee Roasters. As such, there’s no need to offer dessert and coffee from his small restaurant.

“I want to add value and be part of the neighborhood,” Lombardi said. 

On Monday, Aug. 22, Central Square will meet its new neighbor.

425 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, sicarapizza.com.

Si Cara Menu

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