The phrase "hidden treasure" is too often used to describe places that really aren't, but in the case of Pescatore Seafood, it's absolutely accurate.
For one thing, Pescatore is hidden: It's at the less-traveled edge of Somerville's Ball Square, tucked behind Kelly's Diner in a pie-slice-shaped building at the corner of Rogers and Boston avenues. But even once you find the building, the clean but uninspiring takeout counter at the front gives no clue that there's a 24-seat dining room around the corner.
The dining room is a lovely, calm area with sandstone-colored walls, a few sepia-toned photographs of Italian street scenes on the walls, and one very large vase on the floor. It's not fancy, but it's very pleasing, with a touch of sophisticated restraint - a lot like the food that's served there.
Pescatore (which means "fisherman" in Italian) specializes in seafood, and that's mostly what we stuck to. A fried calamari appetizer ($9.95) of golden rings and tentacles, served with a fresh, light marinara dipping sauce, showed that someone in Pescatore's kitchen has a sure hand with a fryolator. These calamari were tender and sweet, and the coating was perfectly crispy. The arancini ($2.50 each), fried tennis-ball-size rounds of arborio rice with a pocket of beef, red sauce, and mozzarella at its center, were tasty but a little too greasy for my taste, though the others at the table didn't seem to mind.
Anna Buonopane, who is from Gaeta, on the Mediterranean coast of Italy's boot, owns Pescatore with her husband, Luigi. She uses several different seafood purveyors, looking for the freshest catch. The grilled salmon ($13.95) was a beautifully cooked piece of fish, nicely crisped outside but tender and moist inside. The dish came with a generous helping of vegetables - some of the best I've had at a restaurant: Spears of zucchini and carrots, pieces of squash, and slices of mushroom were grilled only long enough to soften them but still had plenty of flavor and bite.
The fusilli was so good it made our eyes roll with delight. Buonopane makes it herself, along with the fettuccini and ravioli: That pasta alone would keep me coming back. We tried the fusilli Amalfi ($14.95) with shrimp, scallops, and lobster meat, and the light, slightly tangy garlic, oil, and white wine sauce was a perfect complement to the dense, al dente fusilli. The scallops were bland, but the lobster meat was sweet and succulent. The sauteed broccoli rabe served with it was also apparently quite good, but it was gobbled up before I could taste it.
The squash-filled ravioli in marsala sauce had our eyes rolling happily again. The pasta was firm but soft, and the squash filling, slightly sweetened with amaretti cookies, was nicely complemented by the sweetness of the sauce.
There are five desserts on the menu: creme caramel, tiramisu, pastiera, gelato, and sorbet. Buonopane makes the sorbet ($5.95) using seasonal fruit - right now there's peach and strawberry - and whisks in Italian mascarpone at the end. The peach sorbet, served in a big parfait glass, was full of fruit flavor and creamy from the mascarpone. I actually preferred the tiramisu ($5.95) because it was lighter (sounds crazy, I know). Buonopane also makes the tiramisu, and it's great, with soft but distinct layers of lady fingers, a velvety texture from the mascarpone, and a strong coffee liqueur flavor.
There were only two other tables of diners at Pescatore on a recent Friday evening. It's hard to say whether this was because the Sox were playing, because of the lack of a liquor license, or because the word hasn't gotten out yet. For the sake of dining in the Ball Square neighborhood, let's hope Pescatore doesn't stay hidden for long.