The antipasto della casa ($15) is made at an impressive station in the dining room, but the results are familiar and even a little minimalist: only one kind of cheese (an excellent provolone), very select capicolla and Genoa salami, pickled salad (grab all the cauliflower bits quickly if dining in company), salad, and pickled peppers. Bocconcini ($15) pack the key flavors into bite-size chunks of fresh mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto. Gamberi in padella ($17) improves giant shrimp with an herbal wine sauce.
There are nightly specials, and ours was the Sunday-night "Typical Italian Family Dinner" ($26), consisting of what used to be called "gravy meat" including Italian sweet sausage, meatballs (another Varano group specialty), and a rolled section of (I think) veal breast, all in an enriched tomato sauce on your choice of pasta. Since we chose gnocchi ($21 à la carte) this was all great eating. Strega gnocchi aren't super-fluffy, but they are just fine. Another "homemade" pasta, pappardelle ($24), was on the soft side, but the big ribbons were full of wild mushroom flavor laced with truffle oil; actual mushrooms were mostly shitake.
Risotto di mare ($29) was not al dente or creamy, or really all that much rice. It was more like a soupy and peppery paella, but loaded with sea scallops, shrimp, squid, littleneck clams, as well as plump and highly flavorful mussels. The menu peaks at meaty "secondi"; we had a special on lamb ($36) with four baby chops (maybe up to toddler size) in a fine balsamic glaze, over whipped potatoes, with grilled asparagus and a perfect roasted orange pepper.
The wine list is mostly Italian, and that's where to overspend. A glass of 2008 falanghina from Feudi di San Gregorio ($12.50) was both crisp and floral at first impression, and full-bodied on the palate. The grape may have gone into sweet Falernum for ancient Roman banquets, but now steel-tank California technique makes it a fresh, dry sip. Since we had birthdays to celebrate, we sprung (though not on the Phoenix's dime) for a bottle of 2006 Monsanto Chianti Classico riserva ($60), for a taste of maybe the all-time great Tuscany vintage. We weren't disappointed, by a red wine with the spice of typical Chianti but about double the stuffing. Coffee and tea are served in individual pots.
Rotating desserts are a rather short and familiar list. The tiramisu ($9) is excellent, organized enough to slice like a wedge of cake, pushing toward the coffee flavor side. Sorbet ($9) was lemon our night, and ideal to close out a rich meal. A canolo ($6) was unusually good, with a fresh shell and a complex ricotta filling without the usual sweetness. Chocolate alpine cake ($9) is layers of chocolate cake and whipped cream in a chocolate shell. It's the world's classiest Hostess cupcake. No serious restaurant would serve such a thing; but why do we need to be serious all the time?
One Marina Park Drive, Boston Waterfront
Open Monday-Friday, 11:30 AM-11 PM, Saturday-Sunday, 5 PM-11 PM
AE, DI, MC, VI
Free valet parking at night
Robert Nadeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.