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?