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il cantuccio

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after a lot of indecisiveness about where to go tonight, that little spot down the street at the corner of 3rd and fairmount popped into my head, il cantuccio. the only sign that i'd ever noticed on the outside of the place read "ristorante italiano" so we were unable to pull up their phone number ahead of time, obviously, when we attempted to call to find out if they were a BYO. i hate showing up at a BYO unprepared, and i'm not yet familiar enough with the city to know better in many cases (such as aqua, last thursday night). so we assumed an italian place would just have to have wine, and of course we were wrong. so dinner didn't start out on a great foot. my dining companion grabbed some beers from north third while i waited, and listened to some bad noise from the management about how both the abbaye and north third hadn't been nice about supplying customers with beer and wine to take over to their restaurant. i'm not a fan of one business trashing another, especially when i'm pretty fond of north third. then there was the water mix-up, which i ended up paying $3 for, but i felt bad complaining because the bottle had already been opened. please. i do not look so pretentious as to be above drinking tap water! anyway, there was a sparkling bottle on the table, and i was asked if i wanted sparkling or not. i said no, still, and the sparkling water was removed. before i knew it another bottle of still water had been produced. i should have known better, but i still felt a little jipped. i wasn't even asked if i wanted tap. whatever. lesson learned. we started with a cheese and roasted peppers plate, which honestly was nothing special. the monterey jack was good, but the fontina and moz were just OK. there was also some fabulous sesame bread, which came with two sauces - a pesto and (here's where my review starts becoming positive) a delicious roasted red pepper and sundried tomato puree that was decadent. from there on, everything was great. i had the penne arrabiata, which could have used a few more kicks of spice, but otherwise was delicious. for the record, i asked the kitchen to toss in some fresh moz as well; one of my favorite dishes and one that i use often to judge italian places by. it was wonderful - the capers and the olives contrast very nicely with the cheese, the sauce was beautifully acidic (i love it this way!), and the pasta was perfectly cooked. i ate every last bite on my plate - which was a pretty decent size to begin with! i was full halfway through, but could not put my fork down. my dining companion felt the same way about her pork chop (i think that's what it was, it was some big slab of pork anyway) with a cucumber-tomato salad as well as some roasted potatoes on the side. we both finished our plates completely. so despite a rocky start to dinner, i feel most of my issues were simply lessons learned that i'll take into account next time. maybe next time i will skip the mediocre appetizer and save room for dessert. either way, i know there definitely will be a next time. we were both very satisfied. total bill after tip - $65 for everything i've mentioned plus an espresso.

for what its worth, their dining room is also one of my favorites i've encountered around the city. soooo cute. very very small and i can see how it would get loud with the tile floors and the brick wall. but very warmly decorated, and there was a space heater next to me - not to mention i was sitting next to the open kitchen (a neat touch!) so i was warm, but i could certainly see how it would not be pleasant to sit near the door on a cold winter day. oh, and it's also cash only, which sent me running next door to the coffee shop for an ATM when the bill came in at just over the amount i had in my wallet. i hate cash only. anyway, all in all satisfying. though in searching here just now, i did come across many bad reviews. has anyone else been lately?

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  1. "my dining companion grabbed some beers from north third while i waited, and listened to some bad noise from the management about how both the abbaye and north third hadn't been nice about supplying customers with beer and wine to take over to their restaurant."

    Abbaye and N3rd aren't nice about supplying beer/wine because it's illegal for them to sell for takeout. They have "R" licenses, which allow them to serve only on-premises. Welcome to Pennsylvania! The Foodery around the corner at Second and Poplar (837 N. Second) has a great beer-to-go selection, and the nearest State Store for a bottle of wine is at Germantown and Girard, a few blocks away.

    1. ah, i see. i didn't know there were different types of licenses! the most direct place for me to buy beer is the ministry of information (what a name!) bar at 5th and poplar, which is directly between me and the restaurant. the foodery & the state store would have been out of reach considering we had gone there on foot and we'd already been seated, but also i find the state store is not a great place to stop if you're in the mood for drinking white wine, since there's not a big chilled selection. the foodery does have some great beers, and i'll probably hit that next time. thanks!

      1. Rabidog, thanks for the review. I haven't been there in about 2-1/2 years, but would like to go back at some point. The only reason I knew it was BYOB and that the water was for purchase was this board (albeit, the old one, which I'm not sure it archived here). I called and found out about the cash only policy before I went.

        Th two of us had a next seat away from the door, and all was well until a group of 8-10 were seated nearby. All of those hard surfaces made the noise level almost unbearable; my dining companion and I were nearly screaming at one another to be heard, and we've attended many concerts/shows. This was a Saturday night around 8pm.

        1. We went once, a couple of years ago. Food was good, but noise level too much for us.

          1. yes, i walked by last night at 8:30pm and i noticed it was packed. when i went a few nights ago, dusk had just settled in, so it must have been much earlier in the evening. we were the first table seated, but by the end of our meal the place was about 90% full. not unbearable noisy, but also not unbeaerable quiet, either (it's such a small place, i felt awkward discussing the food with my dining companion while we were the only table there). i guess the sweet spot to get there is around 6 or 6:30.