Where to Il Casale Cucina Campana + Bar, the Lexington sibling of Belmont’s Il Casale, run by chef Dante de Magistris and his brothers.
What for Southern Italian specialties from Campania, the de Magistris family’s homeland.
The scene Happy hour for business-casual guys and the poised ladies who love them. The restaurant is jam-packed on a sunny weekday evening, filled with older couples deep in conversation, men in pleated khakis hoisting beers, and groups of coiffed dames parrying with waiters. At the bar, a vivacious bartender, Joanne, engages in witty repartee when she’s not showing younger servers how to mix cocktails.
What you’re eating This and that. The menu is divvied into sfizi (little bites, like bruschetta and olives), tavola calda (Neapolitan street food, like potato croquettes and salt cod fritters), plus heartier portions of fish, meat, and pasta, which can be ordered in full or half sizes. There’s also a lengthy dessert list. Bocconcini di San Giuseppe, cream-filled fritters with amarena cherries, is a signature.
Care for a drink? Wines by the glass are almost entirely Italian. There’s also grappa, amari, a small draft list, and mixed drinks, including an $11 Campania martini with blood orangecello and house-infused fig-apricot-citrus vodka.
Overheard Birthday party revelry, remembrances of Europe, and instructions on how to mix a proper cocktail. A waitress tries to add an extra garnish to a vodka martini, and Joanne smacks her hand lovingly. “You’ll get the hang of it!” she clucks. “I love Europe, especially Paris,” a waiter tells a solo customer, who admires a floor-to-ceiling map of Campania. “I’m a writer and a musician, and I think Montmartre is amazing. But my twin brother hates it. He prefers London.” “You can’t be twins, then,” the lone diner smiles in reply. “She’s never going to get into school, but I’m not going to be the one to tell her that,” sighs a graying man in a pastel polo. His dining companion, a middle-aged woman who appears to have heard this lament before, smiles knowingly. Nearby, a boisterous party of sophisticated older ladies burst into applause while a waiter hovers. “Don’t worry, we’re not always like this!” one dowager cackles, stretching a manicured claw across the table for a wrapped present. Two younger women teeter out the door in strappy sandals. “The chef has another restaurant in Belmont, but it’s, like, super fancy,” one reveals.
Il Casale Cucina Campana + Bar, 1727 Massachusetts Ave., Lexington Center, 781-538-5846, www.ilcasalelexington.comKara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.