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Cheap eats

Piattini is an inexpensive, civilized cafe

(Michele Mcdonald for The Boston Globe)
By Denise Taylor
Globe Correspondent / December 2, 2009

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Dominating the entrance of Piattini Cafe and Gelateria is a take-out gelato and sorbet counter stocked with mesmerizing flavors: mascarpone fig, Thai coconut milk, cilantro lime, bittersweet chocolate, rosemary honey goat’s milk. And there’s more. We’re tempted to start and end our meal there.

But we’ve come for dinner, and this new, cozy, Italian spot, adjacent to the more luxurious Piattini Wine Cafe, packs plenty of appeal. Set in the petite parlor of a Newbury Street brownstone, cream walls offset gleaming wooden tables and a wall of well-stocked wine cubbies. It’s pretty by day, when you can stop in for breakfast, espresso drinks, and lunch. At night, by candlelight, it’s the perfect setting for a leisurely, light meal - or an evening of wine and fine cheeses (5 for $12).

We start with mix-and-match antipasti, sharing succulent roast vegetables - mushrooms, red peppers, lemon-splashed beets (3 antipasti for $10) - and peppery sopressata salami ($7). It’s enough for four.

A gracious waiter deftly pours our wine. It’s a treat to feel so civilized even though the main dishes, grilled panini or several pastas, come at sub shop prices.

Tirolese panini ($6.95), flavorful rosemary ham, roasted mushrooms, and nutty fontina, is lovely on crusty bread. Like all the sandwiches, it arrives in a cute basket with a side of pasta salad. Mediterraneo ($5.95) nicely cuts a rich layer of roasted eggplant with a zesty olive salad and salty feta. A sweet-tart cranberry compote peps up roast chicken and stuffing on the festivo ($7.95). And on the apple robiola ($8.95), melted goat cheese adds the right tang to sweet, spiced baked apples. Too little caponata leaves the pollo caponata ($7.95) dry.

Lasagna ($9.95) is draped in a skillful, chunky marinara flecked with capers and oil-cured olives, while truffle mac ($10.95) is overly rich. Salads are uniformly fresh and flavorful. Don’t miss honey roasted pear with prosciutto and gorgonzola ($7.95). Chickpea soup ($4.95) proves uninteresting.

Creamy light gelato ($3.75) fulfills its promise. Sorbets are just as masterful. Both are supplied by Capogiro of Philadelphia, which obsessively sources premium ingredients (its fior di latte is made only with the milk of one specific herd of grass-fed, Amish-raised cows). Complex and often delicate, the flavors simply quiver on the tongue. But still, we wouldn’t eat it first. Not if we were feeling sensible.

DENISE TAYLOR

PIATTINI CAFE AND GELATERIA 224 Newbury St., Boston. 617-536-7500, www.piattini.com/gelateria.html. All major credit cards accepted. Not wheelchair accessible.

Prices Appetizers $4-$12. Salads, sandwiches, entrees $5.95-$10.95. Desserts $3.75-$8.

Hours Mon-Thurs 8 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri-Sat 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

Liquor None.

May we suggest Honey-roasted pear salad, antipasto; Tirolese, Mediterraneo, and robiola panini (Tirolese pictured); lasagna; gelato and sorbet including Thai coconut milk, lime cilantro, peach, dark chocolate, hazelnut, dulce de leche.

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