(Joan Wilder for The Boston Globe
454 Turnpike St. (Route 138), Easton
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 4 to 9 p.m.
There are great restaurants in the suburbs, but they are fewer and farther between than in the city. So when we heard about a good one, we made the jaunt to Easton to check out Porticello Ristorante.
It was easy to find on Route 138, just north of its intersection with Route 106, and its classic white clapboard exterior and red awning conveyed a familiar coziness on a fall evening in New England. Inside to the left, a large semicircular wooden bar dominated a room crowded with drinkers and diners.
Along with plenty of seating at the wide bar, there are four tables nearby, including a low one for lounging in inviting leather chairs. The large dining room sprawled to the right and we were seated in a quiet spot in a back corner, near a private room.
I never tire of dipping bread in good olive oil, and this one was deep green on a white saucer with a little island of parmesan along one edge. The plain bread was warm and the focaccia was soft and light, which might not be the ideal for focaccia, but I liked it more than crustier versions.
We started with the Prince Edward Island mussels ($10) in wine, butter, garlic, and parsley, which couldn’t have been better. The little sea-flavored bites - most are no larger than a quarter, and coral pink - are perfect in garlic, butter, and wine sauce, and this was a spot-on rendering of that classic recipe.
The crowd on this Friday night was mixed. A middle-age couple near us ordered, ate, and left before we’d had our main course. A youngish couple to our right took it slowly over wine, and a large table of older women talked and savored many courses. The restaurant is roomy and the acoustics are great, so it’s effortless to hold a private conversation even if the dining room is crowded.
Sometimes a dish just grabs you and is the best thing you’ve eaten for weeks. That’s how the linguini all’amatriciana ($13) hit me.
Some Italian cooks swear that amatriciana cannot be great unless it’s flavored with guanciale - a cured bacon made from pig jowl - rather than the pancetta used here. But I can’t imagine how this dish could have been better. Guanciale is nearly impossible to find in this country, and pancetta added the base and richness to Porticello’s version that guanciale is purported to impart. Chunks of fresh tomatoes added texture to the thick, clingy sauce, and the heat of crushed red pepper followed a mild sweetness in the dish.
Most of Porticello’s pasta dishes can be ordered with a choice of linguini, fettuccini, penne, spaghetti, angel hair, or orecchiette.
After two home runs, it was hard to judge the entrees.
The chicken marsala ($16) is very good. It is two plump grilled filets of chicken breast covered with sautéed mushrooms in a dark and slightly sweet marsala reduction. I’d order it again.
The rack of lamb ($30) - the most expensive item on the menu - is tasty, but would be better if it had more of a sear on it. The light mint reduction served with the two, five-rib racks imparted a very clear mint flavor that I like. The side dish of steamed vegetables - a mass of broccoli, cauliflower, roasted red bliss potatoes, and carrots - needed a drizzle of olive oil to be very satisfying.
The vegetables are also served with the evening’s only disappointment, the grilled swordfish ($26). I couldn’t taste the lemon, basil, or garlic that the menu advertises; the kitchen seems to have neglected the fish almost entirely.
Dessert was a good crème brulee ($7). Other offerings included a molten chocolate cake ($8) that our server recommended, but we were too full to consider it.
Porticello is named after the old hometown of the owners - brothers Mario, Placido, and Sal Sanfilippo - on the northeastern coast of Sicily. Mario and Placido were 10 and 9 years old, respectively, when the family moved in 1972 from Sicily to Dorchester, where Sal was born. Armed with a lifetime of family recipes and years working in kitchens, they opened Porticello in 1998. These guys can cook.