Italian, done just right
A place like Basta Pasta Enoteca is a Cheap Eater’s dream: the food and service are very good, the prices are right, and the atmosphere casual and fun. That’s because chef/owner Reno Hoxallari has had a lot of practice. He cooked at Via Matta and Bambara before opening his first Basta Pasta in Cambridge, which became a hit. But it’s tiny and mostly takeout.
This 48-seat Quincy incarnation, in the old Tullio’s, is a real restaurant, stylized and sleek without feeling cold. “We have everything here we don’t have in Cambridge: we have the parking lot, we have the liquor license,’’ he says. Hoxallari, who was raised in Albania, gutted the space himself. He got rid of everything but the brick oven.
Bless that oven. It turns out some great pizza, the crust a bit puffy with slightly charred edges. Try the pancetta ($12.95), which besides the Italian bacon also has sweet caramelized onions and smoky gouda. We also love arancini ($5.50), miniature fried rice balls, crisp on the outside, with gooey fontina in the center. Sauteed calamari ($6.95) are a nice relief from the usual fried. They’re not too chewy and come in a garlicky marinara sauce with black olives and capers that add a tart note.
Grilled beet salad ($8, pictured below), an occasional special, is a hit. It’s a pretty presentation, green and burgundy with splashes of white goat cheese drizzled with vinaigrette.
Excellent meatballs ($10.95) are large tender orbs served over linguini (or penne) and cooked in that marinara sauce. I’ve always loved gorgonzola and pear salad, so I order the gorgonzola and pear risotto ($12.95), curious to see how the ingredients transfer to a hot dish. The pungent cheese is tamed by sweet pears, and the risotto has a dreamy creaminess.
The house special one night is haddock served with lots of littleneck clams over risotto. It’s $1 over the $18 Cheap limit ($19), but we easily get two meals out of the platter, and the fish is flaky and flavorful.
Hoxallari is rightfully boastful about his handmade fusilli: “Nobody can get the curl the way I do.’’ We try veal piccata ($14.95, with an additional $1.95 for the fusilli instead of penne or linguini). The pasta is cooked just right, and the veal is sauteed in a lemony sauce with mushrooms.
Avoid the bakery-made tiramisu ($5) with its medicinal taste. Better is the cannoli with homemade cream. ($4). Hoxallari doesn’t offer dessert at his Cambridge place, and even he admits that it’s not very tempting here.
Soon, there will be a wine bar with snacks downstairs. Meanwhile, the dining room and bar are together, and the noise level can be high. We never get to the burgers or the panini, so we’ll be back. BELLA ENGLISH