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Italian Restaurants - Question about ordering

This is probably a silly question, but it is an honest one.

I will be visiting Boston's North End and I am looking forward to an Italian meal. - Here is my question:

Do people order both a pasta course AND a meat course? On all the menus I am looking at they list the antipasta, then pasta (primi), and then meat (secondi)

It could get very expensive to order all 3 - and I may feel like a little piggy ... but is this how it is done?

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  1. No need to order both pasta and meat, unless of course you want to. Many restaurants offer their pasta in smaller appetizier portions so you could then enjoy a meat entree. I sometimes like to stop in one restaurant for a glass of wine and an appetizer and then move on to another restaurant for the meal. I've also been known to then go for a nice walk, straight to Paradiso for an expresso and dessert!

    1. My feling about any restaurantis - if this is a new or special experience for you, one you may not be able to repeat soon, do what makes you happy. If you'd like to order more than one dish, by all means order it. The restaurant is there to please you, not the other way around.

      My best food memories involve traveling as a teenager with my father who had an interesting way of learning about new cuisines. He'd find one of the best restaurants around (Veeraswami in London, Gumbo Shop in New Orleans, etc.) and order at least half the menu for just the two of us. It was more food than any sane person could eat but by the end of the meal we had a great overview of a previously unfamiliar cuisine.

      Yes, waiters looked at us as if we were crazy but no one ever said a word or acted as if we were doing anything unusual. And I have some terrific memories to hold onto.

      1. Your father sounds like my type of guy. I don't know how many times we've been told by waitstaff that we're ordering way too much. One of these times was at Babbo in New York a few years ago. We wanted to order 4 main courses for three of us. The waiter went into the kitchen to ask Mario (Batali)'s advice. Mario gave us his "permission" and blessing. The food was great, and on the way out Mario was sitting at the bar. We thanked him for a great meal, and he asked us if we'd enjoyed the (whatever that 4th dish was). He somehow knew who we were.

        So, yes, we tend to order too much, referring to the extra dishes as "for the table." Our table always eats very well.

        As for the Italian restaurant question, in Italy pasta is rarely eaten as the main course. If you want to give the pastas and the mains a try, order a half-portion of pasta as an appetizer, plus a main course. In Italy, the sides are usually extra, as well.

        1. When I was a kid, my dad organized a summer seminar in Naples, and we spent many summers there. Back then people would indeed order a pasta (full portion), an entree, and then dessert. Whenever they would let me, I substituted a second pasta for dessert! But I've been to lots of old-school Brooklyn Italian restaurants and I've never seen anyone order both pasta and an entree (though if you wanted to, they would be very happy to accommodate).

          1. In most of the North End restaurants you would order either a pasta dish (some comtain meat, some don't) or you would order a meat/seafood dish (entree). Most of the entree (meat/seafood dishes) come with pasta. If you were ordering something like a veal piccata it may come with a side of pasta with red (marinara) sauce but you could ask to have it served with the veal piccata sauce not red sauce. You can order an antipasto salad or house salad but I would not recommend ordering all 3. They are really not meant to be ordered that way for each person- it would be an enormous amount of food. I go to the N. End for dinner at least once a month and have never heard or seen anyone ordering all 3. I really even stopped ordering salad appetizers because all the meals are usually really good size portions.