We’d heard about a small Italian restaurant in Somerville’s Ball Square, a hidden gem where the seafood was fresh and the pasta homemade. We pictured a rustic hole-in-the-wall. Instead, what we found when we made our way down a side street beside the silvery Kelly’s Diner was an elegant space with candle-lit tables and white tablecloths.
If the restaurant was more embellished than we expected, the food was as good as we’d heard. The menu is somewhere between a traditional red-sauce Italian restaurant and the most creative denizens of Boston’s North End. Pasta and seafood dominate the offerings, although Pescatore also makes an excellent pizza.
The building is oddly shaped, narrow in the front and wider in the back, so the restaurant’s kitchen is first visible when you turn off Broadway and onto Boston Avenue. The rectangular dining room sits in the back of the building, and a few outdoor tables line a small walkway away from the street.
“A tavola non s’invecchia,’’ the menu begins as a greeting — “At the table, one never grows old.’’ Our waitress brought some wonderfully chewy bread and black olives; olive oil was on the table in a small flask. Pescatore offers a short list of wines by the glass and more available by the bottle.
The Caprese salad ($14) is substantial, with layers of tomato, basil and an excellent, fresh mozzarella, though heavy on balsamic vinegar. The Mirabella salad ($9) is also excellent, creamy with goat cheese and crunchy with walnuts. Although entree prices are reasonable, we would love to see smaller salads at a smaller price — maybe half-sized versions to accompany a dinner?
Throughout our meal, we discovered portions at Pescatore are huge. Salads could be meals, and entrees could feed two. And the slab of tiramisu that arrived for dessert was as big as a wallet, and far thicker.
The gnocchi Sorrentino ($13) filled a plate-sized bowl, enough for two meals. The gnocchi, though, are airy, and the tomato sauce is light enough that it doesn’t drown them.
Grilled salmon ($17) was cooked expertly, still firm and pink in the center. The salmon is served atop a mass of vegetables, notable for their variety — zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, asparagus, among others. Linguine with clams ($15) comes with a choice of three sauces. We choose white, which is light and lovely, although some of the clams were overcooked and chewy.
We ate at Pescatore on a Saturday night, when the dining room was nearly full, and many voices tumbling together made it hard to maintain a conversation without shouting. Perhaps this was because we were seated between two large parties. Was there music playing in the background? We have no idea.
Still, despite the need to raise our voices, the din made the dining room feel festive. Pescatore is not a restaurant where beautiful twentysomethings hang out, though there were a few young couples. Nor is it a place where senior citizens seek early bird specials. The room was filled with groups of all ages.
Although Pescatore doesn’t bill itself as a family restaurant — there is no children’s menu — the individual pizzas will please most youngsters.
The margherita ($12), with sliced tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and a sprinkling of chopped basil, arrived with a wonderfully crispy crust, though the center eventually turned soggy.
The menu lists a dozen specialty pizzas in some interesting combinations, like the verde bianco ($13), with arugula, Parmesan, mozzarella, and white truffle oil; and the alfredo alfredo ($13), with white sauce, chicken, broccoli, ricotta, mozzarella, and basil.
The meal ended on a lovely note, with the slice of homemade tiramisu less sweet than many versions. Even better: a dish of bacio (chocolate hazelnut) gelato.
Kathleen A. Burge