Our side dishes — the contorni, all $5— were a simple gratin of hearty greens, a stimulating salad of marinated frenched green beans with mint and a few green olives, and a nicely cooked dish of eggplant in tomato sauce.
Il Casale is trying to bring a serious bar to formerly dry Belmont. Our best venture into modern mixology was a bourbon crusta ($10), a well-made sour drink with some orange bitters. "Reviver Number 4" ($10) adds lemon and several complex overtones to a vodka drink. Pear cider ($10), however, was a mixture that didn't mix, leaving distinct flavors of sweet apple cider, bare alcohol (from pear liqueur), and the Champagne-like bubbles of prosecco.
Wine by the glass is $9 to $14, but the bottle list, mostly Italian, has red wines starting at a scary $40, with only a handful of whites and a sparkler any cheaper. We bit the bullet on a $47 bottle of 2007 Monte Aribaldo dolcetto d'Alba, which had a clear red cherry nose and enough structure and acidity to stand up to any dish we ordered. Coffee ($2.50) and decaf ($2.50) were fresh and strong.
Desserts are not amazing, but they are good. The winner, worth a little extra wait, is frittele ($8), five fresh-fried beignets you can dip in chocolate sauce. For quicker chocolate, the bunet ($8), or chocolate flan, is not as rich as it sounds, but almost, and comes with real whipped cream and an almond meringue cookie. Panna cotta with strawberries ($9) is the lightest possible pudding. Tiramisu ($9), "the traditional recipe," is just that.
Service at Il Casale is rural only in a degree of personal involvement, and without flourishes is as professional and competent as any in Greater Boston. Our servers knew the menu and wine list, would commit to personal favorites, didn't up-sell, and got everything to the table in good order.
Since this space used to be a firehouse, the walls are bare brick and the floor is concrete. The garage doors are now big windows opening to sidewalk seating in the summer, but draft-proof in the winter. It is humanized by plain wood tables, some framed wall art, a TV over the bar tuned to sports, and mostly by a lot of happy people. It isn't a quiet restaurant, but the sound is that of conversation, rather than the echo of kitchen clank. What does it sound like when it isn't full? Apparently no one knows, and we may never find out.
The only economy plan I can recommend is the $45 "fiat" or $60 "Ferrari" tasting menus, because I couldn't find a course or even a dish to skip. Il Casale will have its dissenters, because it has little novelty and costs more than some other Italian restaurants. But you're buying consistency, reliability, and a kind of general excellence associated more with a family business than a star chef.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at email@example.com.