We loved our meal at Dante (Royal Sonesta Hotel, Cambridge) last year. Chef Dante de Magistris has now opened Il Casale in Belmont Center in an old firehouse. The space is neat with exposed brick and super high ceilings; they kept the fireman's pole, but moved it up front, between two tables. R joked that it looks more like a stripper pole in it's new place.
My co-worker went on Thursday night to celebrate her birthday and came in Friday morning with a glowing review. The Globe reviewed it last week and loved it too. I knew we would be visiting Il Casale this weekend.
They offer an a la carte menu as well as a 4 or 5 course “family style dinner,” For some reason, they are
named after cars, Fiat ($45) and Ferrari ($60), respectively. R being R, he insisted we get the Ferrari. It was an unbelievable amount of food; We could have easily fed another couple. We tried 17 items from the menu and it was almost all fabulous. The menu includes “sfizi” which are little tastes, slightly smaller than an appetizer. We started with:
Baccala - salt cod balls, tomato, pine nuts. Perfectly fried in a great tomato sauce
Burrata - buttery “mozzarella” from Apulia, Sicilian oregano, pistachios . The pistachios were candied! A great counterpoint to the silky cheese and salty oregano
Tonnato - roast pork loin, tuna sauce . One of the least successful dishes of the night. Tuna just doesn't scream “Sauce!” to me.
Pomodoro - tomato bruschetta, garlic, Sicilian oregano . Fresh, bright tomato flavor.
Peperonata - sweet & sour pepper bruschetta. This was R's favorite sfizi. The sweetness of the pepper was divine.
Fegatini - Tuscan chicken liver bruschetta , giardiniera . I normally love chicken liver, but I found mine a little salty. All three bruschettas were perfectly grilled; crisp outside, soft, warm and tender inside.
The pasta course:
Gnocchi - porcini crema, peas, asparagus, fava beans. The gnocchi was exceptional, so light, tender and fluffy. I think this gives Sage a run for it's money. I also liked the sauce, but felt like it needed more fava beans and less peas.
Tagliatelle - the traditional ragu alla Bolognese. The pasta was tender and perfect, and the sauce was also good, but I think I still prefer Sweet Basil's.
Misto griglia - grilled scallops, shrimp, sardine, calamari. Good, but not noteworthy. R didn't like the sardine. The seafood had a nice smoke from the grill.
Bistecca - Steak, wood grilled. The cut of meat was mundane, but it was cooked perfectly and tender enough for was it was. BUT, it was served with a magnificent reduced balsamic sauce. I will definitely try making this sauce in the future.
Parmigianetta - eggplant, tomatoes, egg, mozzarella. This did not work for me at all. Although the flavors were there, I think it needed a textural component. The eggplant was cubed and baked, resulting in a dish with soft eggplant, soft tomatoes and soft cheese. I need some crunch!
Fagiolini - green bean salad, olives, mint . Um, I'm torn on this dish. The green beans were extremely soft which was surprising, but not unpleasant. I don't know if I loved the olives with the beans and until this moment, I didn't realize there was mint in the dish.
Funghi trifolati - sautéed mixed Italian mushrooms . Sautéed mushrooms, hard to go wrong.
Tiramisu – a really lovely version, very similar to my own.
Black Pepper panna cotta with strawberries, balsamic and basil. Wow. This was a Wow dessert. The panna cotta couldn't be more perfect. Such a great combination of favors.
Fried dough with chocolate dipping sauce. As great as the panna cotta was, it might have to arm wrestle with the fried dough for the title of best dessert. So crispy on the outside, yet so light, soft and fluffy on the inside. It was fried dough elevated to a higher calling.
Our service was excellent: attentive and friendly. R wanted to know if they were open for lunch, as he plans to come back, again and again. We certainly will be back.