So, acting on good advice, I sought out Cantina Italiana -- which was sadly closed. At this point, my girlfriend and I cruised up and down Hanover St. a few times, and after getting the lay of the land, decided to stop into a small "cafe" style restaurant -- the name of which, sadly, has already been blotted from my mind; it's on the south side of Hanover St. a few blocks east of Richmond St.
Let's break down the fiasco.
Service: ours was acceptable; our waiter pronounced gnocchi "knockee," which detracted a bit from the authentic feel, water came slowly and infrequently, and it took quite some time for our food to arrive. No friendliness, but no rudeness.
However, while we were seated, seven customers left because they were not waited upon, were not seated, etc.
Food: Jeez. Things started out with a wonderbread baguette, at which point my suspicion was raised a bit. I ordered ravioli di giorno -- which was cheese-filled ravioli, which leads me to suspect that this isn't "di giorno" but rather just cheese-filled ravioli masquerading as a daily special -- and my girlfriend ordered gnocchi. Both were with tomato sauces operating under catchy sobriquettes like "fresh basil and chopped tomato sauce" or "special pomodoro sauce".
The ravioli was a smidgeon above the quality you'd expect of airplane pasta -- mushy, heavy, canned sauce, luke-warm, falling apart. The gnocchi had the gummy/starchy feel of pasta that's been overcooked in too little water, though the sauce on it was perhaps mildly better than mine.
It's too bad I don't remember the name, but the place should be recognizable: a small restaurant with only a few tables, tiled walls, south-side of the street.
We did have a lot of fun subsequently, as it was a beautiful day and North End has lots of life. We had a very good gelatto at Mike's Pastries -- capuccino flavor with a great cinnamon aftertaste -- and a good piece of marzapan from the same place. We then stopped by Salumeria Italiana on Richmond St., which had the hustling and bustling of a fun ethnic grocery store. I was told to "consider myself lucky" for having grown up on De Cecco pasta, and my girlfriend and I were then regaled on the virtues of a certain rare balsamic vinegar smuggled in from Tuscany by the old manager's nephew. Neat place.
We poked our noses into Trio's Ravioli Shoppe (God, does anyone really think that the extra -pe makes a store sound anything but ludicrous?), which had outrageously expensive homemade ravioli for sale ($10/pound); at that price, it's probably worth it just to go through the hassle of making it yourself.
Anyway, next time I swing by I'll get the name of the bad restaurant, and I'll find someplace better.