Amici breaks with North End tradition by serving good side-dish pasta. Our side of ziti had some al-dente texture, a nice tomato sauce, and came to the table hot. No doubt the fast delivery has to do with this being only a 10-table restaurant, manned by a real cook. The staff also must get a lot of practice in rapid cooking and serving on game nights.
The wine list has no years listed and provides mostly Italian bottles at what, these days, are bargain prices. You get what you pay for. Ruffino Chianti ($6.50/glass; $24/bottle) is quaffable, cleaner, and fruitier than the stuff they used to sell out of bottles covered in straw (they had the unfortunately predictive-sounding name "fiaschi"). But it was still rather nondescript. Dynamite merlot ($7.50; $27) — that's the brand name — from California was a little juicier; Zonin Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ($7; $25) had a little more structure. In a blind tasting they would be hard to distinguish, though I think I would favor the Chianti with food and the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo with cheese.
Unlike many North End restaurants, Amici offers desserts — actually, just one: cannoli ($5). Show your Celtics tickets and get a free cannolo and coffee. The cannoli are fresh, with a crisp fried shell and a very sweet ricotta filling.
Service is terrific, not only because the place is small, but because the staff are friends and family and project that warmth. The old red-sauce Italian places were romantic in a Bohemian way, if slightly seedy with candles dripping over empty fiaschi and red-and-white checkered tablecloths. Amici is cleaner, more modern, and better lit — and the modern, drip-less liquid candles are safer, if less colorful.
I hope Amici's strange present schedule has more to do with the extensive construction around North Station than with some business plan of having a semi-virtual 10-table restaurant, and that by summertime there will be more scheduled nights. In the meantime, one handy simplification for planning your visit is to book your reservation online with opentable.com — that way, you won't need to tape Celtics and Bruins calendars to your refrigerator.
All restaurants have an aspect of theater, and Amici is like a well-staged one-act version of the grand opera of Italo-American dining out. Although one could even split up a pasta to get a four-course dinner, the feeling is for moving right along. The staff doesn't push the clock; most patrons are just that hungry for Italian red-sauce flavors, which Amici delivers well.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.