Trattoria a Scalinatella could have plucked whole from somewhere in Italy (I'd like to think Tuscany) and placed neatly onto its perch overlooking Hanover Street in the North End. The dark brick walls, the soft haze of the framed photographs, the dusky atmosphere and even the tasteful casts of two little cherubs on the wall recall a restaurant from a lost era of dignified dining -- hence the insistence on reservations and a dress code -- more pieces of a past that still lives on quietly but vigorously. Reminiscence aside, this trattoria carries its own soft romantic haze.
The rustic food matches the tone of the place -- primally delicious and pure, full of straightforward combinations, many classical, that reflect plenty of healthy respect for tradition.
The easiest option is to leave the ordering to the chef, which I did. The kitchen doesn't take shortcuts with this kind of carte blanche. I noticed large tables in the intimate dining room where everyone had a different antepasta and a different secondi flanking a common primi for the entire table. There isn't mass production, and the chef's whim varied from table to table, no two tables getting the same choices.
I loved the pieces of vivid lobster in the lobster tart, sweet white and coral amid the emerald soft greens, brought together by a thick cream sauce. The crust is remarkable, one could almost feel every single parchment thin layer, like a thousand dry crisp leaves crackling sequentially in a single bite.
The emblematic simplicity of Italian cooking is exemplified by a fresh tomato sauce laced with olive oil garlic and an aura of basil, along with slippery mushrooms to support a textbook case of al dente noodle-like pasta whose phylogeny escapes me. Very effective cooking.
An occasionally sinew across the otherwise firm and tender pink breast of a duck. It's lovely matched against a smoky and luxuriant disc of foie gras. Moist budini, a vague and delicious reference to bread pudding, full of good savoury juices.
An authentic Italian meal in an authentic Italian setting. Serious dining at an even more serious price. The food is excellent for what it is at this trattoria, except perhaps the prices (~$74 for 3 courses and a glass of wine, with secondi in the high 20s and low-30s), which I consider high, even for a ristorante with this calibre. What makes Trattoria a Scalinetella stand out is its grasp of the traditional Italian colours and its preference for a timeless style that is quite uncommon these days. Whether that's worth it will depend on the individual. While I was pleased with my meal at this trattoria, I'd probably prefer to spend less for a tasting menu at Sage with twice as many courses.