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Marcuccio's, North End, Boston

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The baby octopus was the best dish of the evening, perfectly resilent and crunchy, *exactly* the way I love it. I couldn't catch the advertised dark olive puree in the sauce, but the sweet and dark balsamic reduction worked well on the octopus. A bright salad of shaved carrot, lettuce and fennel added a happy contrast to this appetizer.

Also loved the fava bean puree served as a dip for the bread, as well as an amuse bouche of two clams with olives, the mollusks almost hammy in flavor.

It's easy to appreciate the food here; it's rustic heartfelt Italian cooking sussed up with a few modern American touches. In this vein, sweet snappy nibblets of corn are used to reinforce peas in a pleasant brothy risotto, so that vegetable sweetness can play against the salty shreds of parmagiano-reggiano and the rich butter finish.

Similarly, balsamic sweetness and chilli heat combine to dress a slow roasted pork chop. I like my pork chops cut thicker, to about a inch or so; the version here is thinner, and well cooked, but slightly dry (fortunately the plentiful sauce comes to the rescue). Accompaniments include sauteed spinach, roasted potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes, the last a great comforting match for pork.

In general, the savory and textural combinations were all well conceived, everything fitting in nicely, nothing clashed. It was all good, but just good, except for the octopus and the poached pear.

The poached pear was stuffed with thick rich mascarpone, a creamy purity against the softly crunchy pear and its golden robe of caramel. An indulgent finish.

It was a quiet evening in the restaurant, and the service was one of the best I've witnessed: gracious, careful, attentive and helpful, with staff circulating watchfully through the room.

Pre-tip for the above (risotto was a half order) came to $50ish, quite reasonable in this town.

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