Dena's; Caffé di Pagliacci 

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When you go to a certain kind of restaurant, you're willing to forgive almost anything: slights in service, unforeseen delays for a table. The food, after all, is worth it. And that's what you're there for. At , on Midlothian Turnpike across from Chesterfield Towne Center, our service was good and the 30-minute wait understandable — the place was slammed. But the thing we couldn't figure out was why so many people would wait so long in line. What's more, it seems that a wait is not unusual. According to one patron who stood in the air-lock foyer along with us, "Sometimes it's like this. But it's worth it." All in all, it was a lot of food, and it was OK, but we still couldn't figure out why everybody was there. And then it came: the bill. Our whole dinner cost only $49, and that goes a long way toward explaining why the place is so popular with the ice-tea-or-lemonade-with-dinner crowd, and with folks who object to the often exorbitant cost of a dinner out. In this case, the old adage holds: You get what you pay for. — Noel Patrick At in the Fan, a large performance poster of a Met production of the opera greets you in the entryway. Sketches and prints of clowns line the walls in the first floor dining room, and a synopsis of the opera is printed on the back of the menu. It's a big buildup, the equivalent of an orchestral overture. But the theme seems a little too ambitious. Though each course has its high points, the dramatis personae — in this case the preparations — seem not quite up to such lofty standards. The baked Snapper Rosso Farcito con Gambretti ($16.95) was muted by a too thick blanket of shrimp stuffing and a squall of paprika, and the Saltimbocca ($14.95) was overplayed by excessive mustard. The Canelloni stuffed with ricotta cheese, spinach, sauce, and pounded chicken and veal ($8.95) stole the show, relatively speaking. The performance from the pasta side that came with my fish was also quite good. And so it seems that homemade pasta, with its remarkably light texture, is the real diva here. Hoping for a "wow" finish, we concluded with cheesecake ($3.95), Cannoli ($3.50), and Tiramisu ($3.95). But the desserts, all fine, did not deliver the dramatic, irony-filled tension of a knife-wielding clown. And so, as the curtain dropped and the bill was paid, we offered polite though brief applause for a respectable performance. — Noel Patrick


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