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Cantina Italiana, North End, Boston

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At Cantina Italian, the kitchen cares about its sauces.

The ever present tomato sauce is not a generic redness ladled over every dish. Instead, there is careful tailoring that harmonizes it with the other ingredients that share the plate. With bombolotti pasta, sausage and goat cheese, plenty of chopped onions add their caramelized sweetness to the tomato sauce; together, they are cast perfectly opposite the sharp spiciness of the sausage chunks and the soft richness of the cheese. In the Vitello Fiore the tomato sauce takes on a different persona, displaying a delicious gravity (application of veal stock perhaps?) as it accompanies the layered savor of veal eggplant and mozzarella; its stocky tomato richness is lightened only at the end by the pleasant air of generous parsley.

But it's not just tomato sauces. The aura of marsala wine glows over the Saltimbocca di Vitello. I could smell it in the sauce, a halo gently whispering its virtues. The sharp sweet complexity of marsala wine blankets the plentiful mushrooms and the prosciutto covered veal with its rich golden flavor. Somehow it draws out the light woodsy flavors of the snappy mushrooms and plays nicely against the saltiness of the prosciutto. The entire emsemble is a tiny rearrangement of the Mediterranean flavor combination that make mushrooms so irresistible with sherry and bacon.

As a prelude to this this, we (me and SF hounds Jaweino and Bonni) also enjoyed a exemplary platter of Italian cold cuts and cheese. Despite our minor disappointment in the plain tasting dry black olives, we loved the resilient yet tender cuts of cured meats (the wine dark beef prosciutto was my favorite for its deep flavor) and the clean pure-tasting mozzarrella with its suble chewiness.

All in all a great meal, especially since we had dessert first (a cannoli each at Modern pastry).

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