Il Casale: Boston Brings Italian Out of the North End
Il Casale knows its clientele well. This Italian newcomer to the suburban Boston dining scene perfectly marries regional home-style cooking that pleases and satisfies all palates with a finesse seen in the most high-brow establishments in Boston. Already showered with praise, Il Casale has garnered the appreciation of the James Beard Foundation, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, and Zagat – however, Chef Dante de Magistris has admirably avoided letting all of this hot air go to his head.
The restaurant is best described as vivacious. On a Saturday night, the front bar area was packed with local singles and the back dining room operated at a loud buzz. The exposed brick walls, smooth stone floor, industrial metal piping, large floor-to-ceiling windows, and open kitchen did nothing of course to muffle the noise, but each element added to the intended rustic-chic decor and boistrous vibe. The dining room is remarkably small with a few large wooden dining tables (each sparsely decorated with neatly folded dishcloth napkins); just off the open kitchen is a large chef’s table for 10, propped up with a beautiful view into the hustle and bustle.
The food is traditional authentic Italian cuisine focused on regional family-cooking. It’s refined but, at its core, very hearty and flavor-focused. The menu offers various antipasti to start, a range of pastas for either an appetizer or entree course, as well as main ‘secondi’ dishes and dessert. My family and I sampled four antipasti (the ‘greatest hits’ approach): pesciolini, burrata, maiale, and Romeo e Giulietta. The pesciolini, essentially fancy fried baby shrimp with crispy smelts and a fried lemon wheel, was made most interesting by the substitution of calamari for shrimp and the mellow fried lemon. Seeking seafood to start? This basic and zingy option will satisfy all. The burrata offered two dollops of wet and buttery mozzarella that just melts in your mouth. Of the utmost highest quality, this mild cheese bite shows how special cheese can be. The maiale, or pork meatballs, were ridiculously delicious for such mini-bites – watch out Andrew Carmellini, these moist and savory meatballs give yours a major run for your money. At just $5 each, I could eat these little antipasti all night long…
The main courses tried were the cinque formaggi ravioli in sweet pea cream, the gnocchi primavera, the tagliatelle bolognese, and the Sicilian roast chicken. The ravioli was done right – the dough was thin and slightly slippery, no extra heft to distract from the velvety cheese interior and delicate sweet pea sauce. The gnocchi was similarly well-executed in a light pink sauce with a remarkably tasty spring vegetable ragout. The third pasta, the tagliatelle bolognese, received high marks from my father, who compared it to his favorite tagliatelle at the now defunct Armani Cafe (a compliment worth taking seriously). Lastly, the Sicilian roast chicken was a study in restaurant chicken prepared perfectly – juicy, succulent, flavorful; there wasn’t a bland wimpy wing or drumstick in sight.
Il Casale satiated without stuffing uncomfortably, pleased, even wowed with its high notes. The meal showed finesse and restraint and highlighted the notable skill of the kitchen. My entire family left excited by the notion of living just 20 minutes away from this popular new spot (complete with an expansive outdoor patio in clement weather). With something for everyone (accessible pasta dishes, small plates, bar bites, hefty entrees, silky sides, luscious desserts), Il Casale proved that it does in fact deserve the glowing praise showered upon it recently!