For a little more greenery, the side dish of broccoli rabe ($6) is sautéed in oil and — who knows where they found any more? — garlic, with the bittersweet flavor of the older form of the vegetable.
Gennaro's has a short but well-focused wine list, mostly Italian on the red side and worldwide on the white side. I was pleased to find a fine vintage of an old friend, 2006 Michele Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti ($32). This is only the second-best grape of the Piedmont region, in the opinion of wine writers, but my favorite with food, since it has both plenty of cherry-berry fruit on the nose and acidity on the palate. It stands up to tomato sauce, picatta, and even some of the meatier fish dishes. A thin cup of decaf ($2.50) arrived nearly cold, but the espresso ($3) was competent and the decaf cappuccino ($4) excellent.
Coffee service is important, because Gennaro's is one of the handful of North End restaurants that serves dessert. That alone would earn it the coveted adjective "romantic," even without the handsome upstairs dining room.
Certainly, I would consider the chocolate bombe ($7) — chocolate and vanilla gelato with the layer of coconut in a chocolate candy shell shaped like a big egg — a seductive item. Tiramisu ($6) was unexceptional, but spumoni ($6) was much improved from the mixed ice-cream wedges of my childhood, which did not have the cartoon-like layer of chocolate between the strawberry and pistachio layers. On the other hand, we used to have claret sauce on spumoni, which was quite thrilling to a kid — wine sauce on ice cream! Here, you get whipped cream and a maraschino cherry.
Upstairs service from the precise and attentive Claudia was aided by an Italian-made electric dumbwaiter that was refurbished by the new owners, along with a copper ceiling and large tulip lamps. The atmosphere on a quiet Sunday night was delightfully unhurried.
I wish the owners more business in this economy, if only from the more discerning hockey and basketball fans once the winter seasons get going. But Gennaro's is already the ideal compromise between the traditional idea of a North End red-sauce palace and something a little finer. There are no television sets anywhere in the restaurant — now that's romantic!
Robert Nadeau can be reached at email@example.com.