Much of what was once considered to be strictly Italian food now has found its place on American comfort-food menus. True to its name, both such dishes I tried here were as comforting as could be. Cheese ravioli ($9) brought pillows of ricotta with a bit livelier tomato sauce than you might make at home, and were much improved by shavings of that table cheese. And pasta Bolognese ($12), which used ziti instead, had an average meat sauce. But then again, great Bolognese is hard to find, so this is still a pretty good dish.
A few wines are available, many of which can be startlingly cheap. I ordered a glass of rosé, Condesa de Leganza ($4.25), made from tempranillo grapes in La Mancha, Spain. It may be the last glass of restaurant wine under $5 in the United States. Of course, it was served in the same small tumbler as the water, so it didn’t have much nose, but it was entirely drinkable. The water service is excellent, since you refill your own glass from a carafe on the table. And decaf coffee ($1.75) was also excellent. But tea ($1.75) — as you might expect — lacked presentation: it was a bag steeped in a mug of hot water.
There was only one dessert, a lemon-berry cake ($5): a big slice of the old-fashioned yellow variety, with white icing, and lemon and berries sandwiched between the layers. For a diner, it was an outstanding dessert.
One waiter serves all at Potbellies, but seemed as comfortable with our multi-course trial as with slapping down a sandwich for a hungry trucker. Overall, the service was excellent.
The décor matches the bistro-diner straddle of the menu, with ochre and black walls and just enough stainless steel to hint at the former, and white quarry-tile floors and black tables to pull it toward the latter. Despite these efforts, there tends not to be enough people for a measurable atmosphere. The old soul-music tape in the background is just dandy, however, and most other diners I saw were young couples from the new South Boston, or perhaps the artists’ lofts to the north. Someone coming off a shift at Gillette would fit right in as well, though, and dine happily.
I review food, not film, but people have been asking me about Ratatouille, so I finally got around to checking it out. It’s lots of fun, and remarkably insightful about restaurants, with the tiny but fascinating exception of the title dish. I certainly hope that restaurant owners believe critics announce themselves, are cadaverously thin, and sound like Peter O’Toole, since I am not much like that and want to remain anonymous. But, in actuality, the dish that named the film and charmed the critic looks more like the homely peasant stew glimpsed in the flashback than the elaborately decorative cake that serves as the pièce de résistance. In fact, the version featured in the film wouldn’t have the right flavor at all. Use the recipe of the late Richard Olney, get thee to the farmer’s market, spare the squash, and your ratatouille will please even the cadaverous gourmets who sound like O’Toole.
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Robert Nadeau: RobtNadeau@aol.com