Chef Samantha Castagnetti cooks solo in the kitchen of her café the Italian Barrel (430 Barracks St., 569-0198), reviewed in this week's issue, which is a necessity given the tiny confines of the space that was once home to a smoothie shop.
But then, some of the best things to eat here require no cooking at all. Rather, they rely on a keen eye to the imported meat and cheese ordering form and a careful hand at the slicer. Some of these clutch ingredients do play key roles in Castagnetti's cooked dishes, especially the frequent special of chicken under fontina and speck, which was the dish that made me decide to return for future meals at the Italian Barrel in the first place.
But to order the meat board (pictured above) and the cheese board (below) exclusively and work your way through them makes for a memorably delicious meal with a unique pace. This is how a full hour got away from a friend and I who met here for lunch one afternoon, casually comparing the differences between Parma proscuitto and proscuitto cotto or between spicy and mild sopressa Veneta, and likewise between the truffle-laced caciotta cheese from Tuscany and the rabiola from Trentino Alto Adige.
Both boards are highly recommended, either for a meal or for a shared nosh with a few glasses of wine at the café's tiny, narrow tile bar.