Unlike the Arax Market across the street, or Sessa’s in Davis Square, La Romagnoli and Son is not packed wall-to-wall with foodstuffs. Instead, there’s a carefully curated selection of only the best meats and cheeses, and a small refrigerator and freezer stocked with a couple of outstanding sauces.
And crucially, unlike any of the competitors, including Dave’s Fresh Pasta and Capone’s in Somerville and Cambridge, La Romagnoli & Son have a full kitchen, right in view. Not just panini, but pastas, fritattas and more are available, cooked to order, by the owner.
When we came in on Saturday afternoon, signora Romagnoli was patiently and carefully explaining a recipe to a sous-chef, in between taking and filling our orders. The special pasta that day was a carbonara. It was incredible, heavy on the cracked pepper and shot through with bacony smoke from the pancetta. Mr. Bookdwarf ordered an eggplant parm sandwich. He’s a fan of a greasy, sauce-heavy, spicy eggplant parm, but wanted to see what Romagnoli would do with it. She made it as he probably should have guessed she would. It was a reminder of what eggplant parmigiana ought to be: Flavorful bread instead of fluffy nonsense, excellent mozzarella instead of low-moisture part-skim commodity cheese, and exactly enough home-made sauce to dress the eggplant without hiding the flavor of the vegetable itself.
While we were eating, a crotchety old couple came in, asked a million questions, rejected suggestions of soup (“I don’t like beans”) and sandwiches (“I’m not a bread person”) and flavorings (“What’s pancetta meat?”). Signora Romagnoli handled them with aplomb, went off-menu, and brought them a dish that they seemed delighted to have. It looked pretty good to me, too, but by that point I’d already stuffed myself with carbonara and Mr. Bookdwarf was grabbing mints from the dish by the door and heading to Arax for Armenian string cheese and baklava.
We’ll be back.