January 11, 2008

The North End and Second Dinner

Posted in Boston, food at 10:54 pm by Michael

Thursday night after work we went over to the North End for dinner. Almost every trip that we’ve made to Boston (probably 20+ in the time I’ve been gone – and at least 4-5 for Anh and I) I love to go to the North End to get some great Italian food, and cannoli. My favorite haunt is Trattoria Il Panino on Parmenter and Hanover. There’s great debate among Bostonians as to which place has the best cannoli as well as what comprises a cannoli and whats an aberration.

I assert that true cannoli filling is the sweet ricotta filling. No chocolate chips and no nuts (pistachios are the most common contaminant) should decorate the ends, IMHO. Chocolate or Vanilla pudding may be yummy, and one may put them inside a cannoli shell, but this doesn’t make it a cannoli.

Powdered sugar on the outside… I’m neutral.

The best cannoli are filled “on demand”, as the moisture in the filling will soften the shell. This means naturally that to get the true cannoli experience, you need to eat them as soon as they are filled (which means that you eat and walk, which is just good times).

Once you resolve what a cannoli actually is, then the debate is “where”. There are three major choices in the North End: Modern Pastry, Mike’s, and my favorite – Bova’s. All three are great – its just a question of variation in the shell – flaky to crispy – how sweet the filling is – and how smooth the filling is. For me, Bova’s does the best, and will fill on demand if you ask.

So of course we went to Il Panino for dinner, and honestly, it sucked. Bad. I was amazingly disappointed. We’d been there six months ago and it was great. Anh had lobster ravioli that were inedible. Fishy – this happens when they are frozen incorrectly. They have to be fresh to be great. There is ZERO excuse for this in Boston where pasta and lobster are like air. I had a pasta (a large style ziti) with a beef, veal and pork ragu. The sauce tasted fine, but they skipped the ragu part. It looked like they put about a quarter of the meat in the dish that should have been there. Anh ate half of one ravioli and made the same face that I make when I smell durian. I finished about half of my dish, and we were done.

We went to Bova’s, and luckily the cannoli there are still great, and we also got one for Samwich.

I asked Anh if she wanted to go to Chinatown to try to get something else to eat, and she said ok, so we cabbed it down there, and looked for the busiest place with the most natives of whatever country’s food was being served. We quickly came upon “Gourmet Dumping Restaurant” just inside of the Chinatown gate. At nearly 9pm it was packed, and this was a good sign. We had some pan-fried dumplings, watercress with garlic, and noodles with beef. It was all good! We’ll definitely go back. Samwich woke up while we were there (he was taking his afternoon nap, as we kept him on West Coast time), and after he had his dinner, he got his cannoli dessert. It was his first one, and it was memorable.

Lets just say that Samwich ate the vast majority of the filling osmotically.

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1 Comment »

  1. Alan said,

    My Italian wife insists that “real” cannoli filling is mascarpone, rather than ricotta. Could be a regional difference (NY area vs. New England).

    Megan>> Very interesting. I was wondering if I could not tell the difference (wouldn’t that be lame)… However when asking for cannoli in the North End, its common to ask for “ricotta” cannoli… Here’s what wikipedia says

    “Cannoli are Italian pastry desserts. The singular is cannolo, meaning “little tube”, with the etymology stemming from the Latin “canna”, or reed. Cannoli originated in Sicily and are an essential part of Sicilian cuisine. They are also popular in Italian American cuisine.

    Cannoli consist of tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing mascarpone (or alternatively, but less traditionally, sweetened ricotta cheese) blended with some combination of vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, Marsala wine, rosewater or other flavorings. Some chefs add chopped candied fruit (citron, orange peel, or cherries). They range in size from “cannulicchi”, no bigger than a finger, to the fist-sized proportions typically found in Piana degli Albanesi, south of Palermo, Sicily. Regardless of size, the shells should be filled as late as possible to avoid becoming soggy, thus losing the crunchiness that provides contrast with the softness of the filling.

    The versions Americans are most familiar with tend to involve variations on the original concept. This is possibly due to adaptations made by Italians who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1900s and discovered limited availability of certain ingredients. The cannoli sold in Italian-American bakeries today usually still contain ricotta, but mascarpone is a less common alternative. Sometimes the filling is a simple custard of sugar, milk, and cornstarch. In either case, the cream is often flavored with vanilla or orange flower water and a light amount of cinnamon. Chopped pistachios, semi-sweet chocolate bits, and candied citrus peel or cherries are often still included, dotting the open ends of the pastry. Chocolate sprinkles are sometimes used as a garnish for cannoli in the United States.”

    So, maybe it is regional, but also a US v. Italy thing… more research (eating cannoli) required.


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