• 109 Salem St. Boston, MA 02113
  • 617-523-0990


For hearty fare, eat your pasta Al Dente

The Boston Herald
Review/by Gus Saunders

Simply furnished storefront restaurants seating 30 or so and featuring familiar Italian dishes have become a big attraction in the North End.

They’re easily recognized by long queues of people willing to wait an hour for an overflowing plate of pasta and a glass of robust wine in casual, crowded surroundings where there is no dress code and the noise level often makes conversation difficult.

They have their charm, however, and if you’re seeking an informal setting with big portions and modest prices, Al Dente is a worthwhile destination.

Service is hurried, almost frenetic, yet attractive and friendly.

Wines are comfortably spaced from a well chilled quaffable Banfi Frascati ($13.95) to a mellowed Badia Coltibuono Chianti Classico Reserva ’75 for $69.95.

Many appetizers could just as nearly serve as accompaniments to main dishes. Examples include golden egg dipped sauteed broccoli ($3.95), and the glorious assortment of broccoli, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, peppers and spinach sauteed in olive oil with garlic ($5.95).

More acceptable as an appetizer by itself is the delectable shrimp scampi ($7.95), a set of five large shrimp sauteed in a rich white-wine butter sauce with garlic and lemon juice. Or try the eggplant rollatini ($4.95), three ricotta-filled eggplant rollups topped with melted mozzarella and simmered in a spicy marinara tomato sauce.

Salads are sparkling fresh and inviting, especially the house salad ($4.50), with tender young arugula, Belgian endive and radicchio. Pastas feature well fortified sauces: lots of beef, pork and veal in the Bolognese ($7.95); a generous amount of zesty pancetta and onions in the penne ala matriciana ($7.95); and a nicely balanced blend diced eggplant, tomatoes and Parmesan in the cavatappi, spiral pasta ($8.95).

Chicken is available in a variety of styles, none more satisfying than the chicken buona bocca, ($11.95), flattened chicken breasts layered with prosciutto and mozzarella in a luscious sage-seasoned white-wine butter sauce filled with mushrooms. Tops among the half dozen veal dishes is the veal marsala ($11.95), chock full of diced ham and mushrooms in a sweet marsala wine sauce accompanied by ziti with a marinara sauce.

Desserts – an unrecognizable tiramisu ($3.95), a commercial chocolate mousse cake ($3.95) and cheesecake spread with strawberry jelly ($3.95) – are best ignored. A cp of good espresso is a better finale.

North End Home Cooking

Before opening the North End’s newest restaurant, Al Dente,
owner Joe Bono conducted his food service career curbside.
Bono, sometimes known as the sausage cart king, owns a
number of the savory-smelling sausage carts around Boston.
Now, instead of providing meals on wheels, Bono has opened
a restaurant that specializes in Italian cuisine from all regions
of Italy.
Bono hopes the name of his eatery, Al Dente, meaning
“cooked to order,” will reflect the care his cooks take in
preparing each individual pasta dish.  Nothing is made ahead
of time, and Bono draws from fresh produce, meats and
fish available nearby.
Located on Salem Street, known as Restaurant Row
to North End natives, Al Dente caters to neighborhood
residents seeking relief from their own kitchens as well
as tourists strolling off the Freedom Trail.
The menu is expansive, offering cuisine from Sicily,
Calabria and the northern regions of Italy.
Appetizers such as egg, spinach and tomato tortellini
con panna ($5.95) are delicious.  The tri-colored tortellini,
sauteed with cream and cheeses, wasn’t heavy; in fact, we
were still looking forward to our entrees.  The Italian
antipasto (small, $4.95; large, $7.95), with a variety of
meats and marinated vegetables, is also a good pick.
The gnocci Luigi ($8.95), a chef specialty, is light
and tasty.  The dish, made with fresh basil and blended
cheeses in a marinara sauce, is enough for two meals.
The chicken, penne and broccoli ($7.95) is a classic,
with boneless medallions sauteed in white wine and garlic
butter surrounded by broccoli florets and a sprinkle of
Parmesan cheese.  The eggplant parmigiana ($6.95) is
perfect, the cheese not drowning out the tangy taste of
the lightly battered eggplant.
The veal dishes are slightly more expensive, but they’re
worth it.  The Veal Sorrentino ($10.95) has veal layered
with eggplant, prosciutto and fresh mozzarella sauteed in
a dry vermouth mushroom sauce.  All entrees are served
with a side order of homemade pasta.
After one eats Al Dente’s huge portions, dessert seems
impossible, but the homemade tiramisu is too tantalizing to
refuse.  Consisting of marscapone cheese, cognac, lady
finger cookies and espresso, tiramisu can be made only
with time consuming care.  Bono’s mother, Lauraine Bono,
devotes the time to make the best-tasting tiramisu on
Salem Street.
And if the tiramisu doesn’t grab you, Joey will be around
to your table with his mother’s homemade cookies.
Al Dente left us with the feeling that we had been to the
Bono’s for dinner, except that we didn’t have to pitch in
with the dishes.