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L'Italia

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You won't mistake for a slick franchised counterpart. The restaurant's three dining rooms have the patina of an institution almost 30 years old — well cared for but also well worn and comfortable in an old-fashioned way.

Among the starters there are few surprises, except for what I would consider a quintessential French dish, onion soup with baked cheese and croutons. The fried calamari ($7.95), which was probably from a prepared package, has little taste or texture of calamari. Too bad, because calamari is done so well in many places these days. It's a missed opportunity, as is L'Italia's salad, which is included with most of the entrees. In a day when a variety of greens is available everywhere, a salad based on iceberg lettuce is another trip down memory lane.

If you choose pasta for an entree ($8.25-$14.50), you'll find the usual choices of spaghetti, fettuccini and the usual stuffed varieties of manicotti, cannelloni, ravioli and lasagna. Most are sauced with tomato sauce or marinara, with a few exceptions such as a creamy carbonara.

Among the other entrees ($13.25-$25.95), you'll find veal dishes of Marsala, scaloppini, parmigiana and cacciatore. There's also shrimp, chicken, flounder and lobster sautéed in cognac. We went to the specials menu, which has some interesting choices ($10.50-$18.95). Risotto Ortolana, a vegetarian concoction of several vegetables, was a happy melange. Osso bucco almost always rings my chime, and though I consider it a winter favorite, I was pleased to find that even on a hot summer evening, this slow-cooked veal shank is not without its succulent charm.

Among the desserts are more old-fashioned charmers such as spumoni and tortoni. A few bites of the latter were enough to send me on another trip to places where I have been.

L'Italia is not about what's trendy and hot, but what has been and continues to be. Many take comfort in that. Viva L'Italia!



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