Ricardo’s Ristorante

Sincerely old-school
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  January 2, 2008
2.5 2.5 Stars
LASAGNA: Fresh squares of this old-fashioned dish, with fabulous marinara, are a relevation.

Ricardo’s Ristorante | 175 North Street, Boston | Open Mon-Thurs, 11:30 am-3 pm and 5-10 pm; Fri & Sat, 11:30 am-3 pm and 5-11 am; and Sun, 1-10 pm | AE, MC, VI | Full bar | Validated parking at parcel 7 garage | Sidewalk-level access | 617.720.3994
Where once red sauce reigned supreme, it now takes strength of conviction to stake a North End menu on red-sauce dishes. Ricardo’s flirts with pizza, hedges with steaks and chops, and adds fashionable items like bruschetta and risotto. But the strength of the menu is old-fashioned lasagna, eggplant rollatini, even veal parmigiana — anything in which a well-made tomato sauce will shine. Ricardo’s marinara is pure tomato goodness, not even a hint of the raisin-like flavor of tomato paste. This restaurant has nothing for the culinary sophisticate below a certain age. Old-timers and working-class Italo-Americans will avoid the pretentious dishes, treasure the simplicity, and savor the value that dining-out Italian once represented. Maybe a few of the retro-chic Gen-Zers will fall in love all over again with these dishes. I rather hope so.

The room is also a little retro. It looks bigger than it is, and despite a lot of windows onto North Street, it’s comparatively quiet. Credit carpeting and traditional background music — Italian on my first visit, Christmas tapes by early December.

Food begins with crusted white bread, fairly neutral olive oil, and grated cheese in a shaker. Bruschetta ($6), which I don’t really recommend, is the same bread grilled (and ours burnt a little on the bottom), topped with chopped tomato salad and capers. Garlic bread ($5) is even less interesting. You can make it at home with more garlic and better bread.

But the eggplant rollatini ($8) are meltingly wonderful, with that pure, clean marinara worth eating by the spoonful. Mussels and clams ($9) are in the shell, served in a spicy tomato-based sauce that also does more for the basic bread. A baby spinach salad ($9) is a pretty smart concession to modernity. The tomatoes are just okay, but cheese on top helps, as do candied nuts, crumbled bacon, and a creamy Italian dressing. Only prosciutto and melon ($8) fell flat on unripe honeydew, despite nice slices of thin, salty ham.

The best of our four entrées was lasagna ($14), with that fabulous marinara, fresh ricotta cheese, soft pasta, and not too much meat or grease. Lasagna freezes decently and holds well, but a fresh square is a revelation. Veal parmigiano ($17) is good, not great, but another opportunity to eat that tomato sauce.

Seafood risotto ($24) is a nice job on the modern stuff. The rice is cooked through, and it isn’t as creamy as most restaurant risotto, but the salty seafood broth flavors every bite, and the littleneck clams and mussels (both in the shell), calamari, and shrimp are all nicely cooked, not overdone. Sausage cacciatore ($17) has chunks of stuffed sausage vying with well-composed meatballs in a sauce of sautéed onions and peppers.

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