The city of Cambridge seems to have nearly every kind of restaurant imaginable, with all sorts of cuisines available to residents and visitors alike. One area in which Boston's next-door neighbor seems to be lacking, however, is low to mid-priced Italian in a casual environment. Sure, Gran Gusto, Basta Pasta, and East Side Bar and Grille call Cambridge their home, but very few others can be found in this city of approximately 100,000. There is a relatively new spot, though, that features scratch-made Italian dishes (with an emphasis on pasta) at reasonable prices, and while L'Impasto on Mass. Ave. in North Cambridge is about the size of a large walk-in closet, it is worth the occasional waits for some of the terrific dishes here.
Like many restaurants--and other businesses--along the stretch of Mass. Ave. between Porter Square and the Arlington border, L'Impasto is tiny--indeed, about as tiny as a sit-down restaurant can get, with a couple of high-top tables by the front windows and a small handful of tables for two and four in the rest of the dining area. A counter is located front and center for those who are doing takeout, while the kitchen is directly behind the counter. Small as the place may be, though, L'Impasto is attractive in a cozy and romantic sort of way, with a low noise level, lighting that is mostly dim, and fresh loaves of bread that are stacked temptingly next to the counter (more on this in a minute).
The person behind L'Impasto is from Rome, and the menu (and specials board) reflects it, with a number of authentic, old-world Italian items available. Because the menu changes depending on the season, a dish that you order on your first visit might not be available on your second visit, and the specials board is always changing as well. Some items that you might find here depending on the night--and season--include an impressive antipasto with prosciutto, olives, burrata and mascarpone cheese, roasted red peppers, and eggplant; a Caesar salad that is served with anchovy bread; a decadent fried ricotta plate that comes with thinly-sliced eggplant; a classic plate of linguini with clams; a lasagna dish made heavenly by the inclusion of creamy bechamel sauce; casarecce alla vodka, which combines a little-seen partially-rolled pasta with bacon-like strips of speck; cannelloni, with the rolled pasta being stuffed with options such as squash or spinach, depending on the season; ravioli with options including potatoes or buffalo mozzarella; veal scaloppine with prosciutto and sage; a nicely-presented chicken parmigiana plate and an eggplant parmigiana option that is nothing like your basic Italian-American version; Naples-style pizza with varied toppings such as prosciutto and zucchini; and for dessert, a sublime wild berry tiramisu and freshly-made cannoli. Oh, and then there's the bread; some folks believe that the house-made bread may be the best thing at L'Impasto, with such options as a cheesy parmesan bread, a briny olive bread, a classic rustic country bread, and the aforementioned anchovy bread. Wine and beer are both offered here, with lesser-known Italian wines sometimes available (ask your server about these).
It is great to see another casual Italian option for Cambridge, especially such a truly impressive one as L'Impasto. Parking can sometimes be difficult, the walk from both the Porter and Davis T stops is a little longer than some might wish, and the dining room can fill up quickly due to its miniscule size, but these are relatively minor issues that shouldn't keep lovers of traditional Italian food from visiting this warm and friendly spot.
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