So we finally decided to try the sort of (from the outside, anyway) divey looking Italian place near my apartment--surprise, it's actually pretty good. It's sort of casually traditional (it would make sense if you saw it) in atmosphere and decor--a family restaurant without kids. We had broccoli rabe eggrolls to start (a special), which were really quite good; I had sea bass prepared with cherry tomatoes and capers as an entree, over some nice linguini, which was a good, fresh dish; my dining companion had linguini in red clam sauce, which he described as tasty, traditional, right mix of brine and tomatoes, but small clams and not enough of them.
The prices aren't cheap (entrees range from $10-14 for the pastas and $14-$30 for entrees, with most entrees in the high teens), but they're certainly better than your average red sauce joint, and we'll definitely go back. A key plus for winter: a fireplace.