March 1 2013 06:28 PM

North Park postman' delivers hearty Italian fare

Postino’s strawberry Napoleon
Photo by Mina Riazi

North Park's Il Postino was buzzy on a Saturday night, its entrance crammed with diners itching for a seat. The Italian eatery's name is an allusion to director Michael Radford's 1994 film about a lovesick postman who woos his doe-eyed sweetheart with poetry. The movie keeps it simple with a scenic village setting and a straightforward plot. 

The Il Postino of 30th Street (3959 30th St.) spins a different kind of story. Brick walls and chunky silver pipes create a look that's more industrial than provincial. The restaurant's menu is a multi-paged affair split into sections like "Carne Rossi" and "Pesce." Some may find its heft overwhelming, especially if starting with an empty belly. Luckily, there's bread and a dish of marinara for that. While scanning the menu, I dunked a carby morsel into the red sauce and popped it into my mouth. I like my bread bold—with a thick, crackly crust—and found Il Postinoís a little too tim'd. The marinara, though, was strong and flavorful.

The salads brought even more flavor to the table. The Insalata d'Antra featured smoked duck breast, pine nuts, raisins and crumbled bacon atop warm spinach. I've always been a front-row fan of sweet and salty combos, so I dutifully helped myself to two servings. Zippy arugula joined forces with Belgian endives and radicchio in the Insalata Trecolori. A walnut-studded slab of goat cheese topped the leafy heap and vinaigrette dressing pulled the flavors together. 

My loyalty to sweet and salty mash-ups is matched only by my dedication to hearty, well-seasoned meat sauces. I skipped many of the menu's promising pasta options and decided on the Penne alla Bolognese. When my dish finally arrived—puffing steam, the penne plump and glistening—I scorched a few taste buds as I rushed into the first bite. Thankfully, my grub buddies slid spoonfuls of their food onto my plate so I could keep busy while anticipating the cool-down. 

They offered me a slice of the Prosciutto e Funghi pizza, flecked with strips of ham and fleshy mushrooms. Thin-crusted and chewy, my sliver boasted a perfect sauce-to-cheese ratio. A few forkfuls of Il Postino's Halibut alla Siciliana came next. With its capers and olives, the well-intentioned fish dish packed a salty punch and wasn't my favorite. The nicely sized hunk of halibut, though, was moist and tender and dressed in a tangy oregano sauce.

With its full-bodied flavor and chunky texture, the Penne alla Bolognese won over everyone. The slow-cooked rag?was carefully seasoned and the penne prepared just right, with a slight springiness to each bite. 

The meal ended as all meals should: with a firm thwack of sugar. I had drooled over pictures of Il Postino's strawberry Napoleon and needed to try it. The dessert arrived looking better than its photos: cream slow-oozed between layers of sliced strawberries and filo pastry. A smattering of powdered sugar capped the showy confection, and my first and last forkfuls tasted equally sublime. 

By the time I left Il Postino, I felt like most do after gorging on carbs: full and content and contemplating Round 2. 

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