Even in a downpour, customers waiting in lines to get into Hanover Street restaurants don’t move. Some have umbrellas and others are just getting soaked. Perhaps that will be part of the story they tell later. A man ducks inside a doorway with his teenage children and asks Siri where to eat in the North End. The kids look at him with disgust.
Perhaps she’ll direct them to the new BenCotto, a corner spot with windows open onto the street, plenty of marble, dark wood, and Sinatra on a cartoonish loop (that is, when opera’s greatest hits aren’t). Opened by Warren Mustacchio and his partner, Joseph Bono, BenCotto (Italian for “well cooked”) is pitch-perfect North End: a menu of chicken and eggplant Parm, big plates of pasta, seafood, pizzas, and a waiter who comes around with a chunk of Parmesan in a little grater. The restaurateurs know their clientele well; they also run neighboring Al Dente and Benevento’s.
On the pizza list are grilled rustic rectangles ($15.95), thin and crisp. Wild roasted mushroom and ricotta is drizzled with balsamic and topped with arugula. A classic Margherita has a mildly sweet sauce under the mozzarella. BenCotto also makes brick oven pies ($12.95-$14.95), which are round with a softer, chewier crust. The all-white bianco, with pecorino romano, mozzarella, and basil, is just right with the tender dough. BenCotto, which has only pecorino romano but no other cheese, has a nice-tasting tomato sauce but the pie is flabby.
Tender homemade ciabatta holds chicken Parm ($8.95) in a hearty, satisfying sandwich of breaded cutlets with tomato sauce and mozzarella. Fried calamari with hot cherry peppers ($11.95) is deliciously crisp.
A fig salad ($10.95) with grilled fruits and goat cheese comes on a bed of fresh greens in a sherry vinaigrette. It’s wonderful with plump grilled shrimp ($7.95 extra). More of those juicy crustaceans are in a garlicky scampi tossed with linguine ($14.95). Bolognese with penne ($12.95) is piled high with a chunky sauce that begs for more seasoning.
Highly seasoned grilled sausages are exceptionally juicy and smoky with roasted red peppers, arugula, and artichoke hearts ($14).
Wait staff are attentive and friendly, though one night the bartender can’t seem to birth a cocktail he suggests we order. We wait 30 minutes and our waitress reminds him several times. Primavera with cream sauce ($12.95) comes with mushrooms and carrots, not a hint of green in a dish billed as spring-like. The calamari is almost tepid by the time it arrives. And everything needs a little more seasoning, something to lift it out of the red-sauce doldrums.
BenCotto is a likable place, and it takes reservations, so you don’t need to stand outside to wait. And here you get complimentary shots of cream limoncello in tiny plastic cups presented at the end of the meal, which makes up for miscues. Should I bring one to the poor distressed dad in the doorway?
361 Hanover St., North End, Boston, 617-523-0050, www.bencottoboston.com. All major credit cards. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers, sandwiches, soups, salads $7.95-$11.95. Pasta and pizzas $12.95-$15.95. Entrees $13.95-$15.95.
Liquor Full bar
Hours Sun-Thu 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Lunch Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
What to order Fig salad with shrimp, fried calamari, chicken Parm sandwich, Margherita grilled pizza, mushroom grilled pizza, bianco brick oven pizza, shrimp scampi.