It has been close to two years since one of our favorite neighborhood Italian haunt closed due to exorbitant rent increases. We always knew that Il Panino Express had another outpost in the North End. However, it's hard to choose a casual sandwich shop for dinner when you're literally steps away from the likes of Mamma Maria, Prezza, and Monica's.
So we never went.
But nostalgia can be a pretty strong force, and eventually I convinced Bryan to try Trattoria Il Panino "for old time's sake."
Instead of actually going into the casual sandwich shop (Il Panino Express), we instead opted to go to their restaurant (Trattoria Il Panino).
One of my favorite dishes from Il Panino in Cambridge was the gnocchi pesto. I wouldn't even say it's THAT amazing from an objective point of view (they use pre-bagged gnocchi, not homemade), yet I always loved the thick chewy texture and the deliciously rich pesto sauce.Ah, such good memories.
I didn't exactly see my gnocchi pesto on the menu, although I did see a pesto pasta and a gnocchi Sorrentina. Bryan encouraged me to ask them to custom-make my favorite dish, which they happily agreed to do.
The verdict? It was very close to the original that I remembered from the old Cambridge location, so I blissfully enjoyed every bite while remembering the good old days.
Carpaccio Di Bresaola dried cured beef with arugula salad - $13.95
This simple starter of cured beef was quite nice as well. I really liked how the pungent arugula provided the peppery balance to the salty beef and cheese.
Baby Octopus Affogato garlic, white wine & cherry tomatoes - $14.95
The waiter strongly recommended that we try the octopus. The flavors were nice, though the octopus could have been cooked just a tiny bit less. I personally found the dish a tad salty for my tastes, although Bryan thought it was fine. We ended up taking a portion home to save room for our entrees.
Ossobuco Alla Milanese braised veal shank served with saffron risotto $28.95
Bryan very much enjoyed his osso buco. We were both tremendously impressed with the texture of the risotto, which was beautifully al dente and infused with a lovely saffron essence.
We ended with a simple lemon layered cake, which was very nice.
Overall, our meal at Trattoria Il Panino was pretty good, with all the dishes solidly executed. Nothing's particularly unusual or creative. Instead, the restaurants churns out solid, traditional Italian food.
It's not anywhere close to being in the same league as the really nice restaurants, such as Mamma Maria, Prezza, or Monica's. However, its prices are also lower (e.g. Osso Buco at Mamma Maria is $36), so it's unfair to do a direct comparison. Appetizers go from $10.95 to $14.95, pastas range between $12.95 and $18.95, while main entrees start at $19.95 and go up to $29.95.
It was a lovely meal and a great trip down memory lane. However, I'm not sure when we'll be back again. When you're in the North End, there are just too many other tempting places competing for my attention. Nostalgia aside, Trattoria Il Panino really can't compete with the likes of our other favorites, even if it costs slightly less.
Trattoria Il Panino
11 Parmenter St
Boston, MA 02113
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