With a flexible menu, this neighborhood restaurant makes you feel like familia. 

Feel at Home

When a national restaurant chain promotes itself as a "neighborhood" eatery, you know the concept has changed. And certainly in our auto-based society, we can spin across town in minutes to our favorite. Though the concept may have changed, most of us frequent restaurants, nearby or not, that have a coziness and familiarity that make us feel at home, that offer a decent meal, and perhaps even familiar faces.

Angela's Ristorante at Ridge and Forest in the West End is almost a quintessential "neighborhood" eatery. One of the Palazzottos, the proprietors, is almost always there. Denise Palazzotto serves as hostess (and as assistant in the kitchen when needed) and her husband, Michael, presides over the kitchen in back, open to the dining room. They've been there for more than 15 years, so it's not surprising that they have lots of regulars.

But the thing that brings most people back to a restaurant is the food. I get the impression that Chef Michael would prefer to use his menu as a springboard of inspiration rather than for rote preparations. The menu is extensive, to be sure, with a couple of dozen seafood and veal dishes, in addition to other stuff, including pastas and pizza. Then there's an additional printed menu of specials, and the server always has a list of some treasures waiting in the 'fridge to be custom-cooked to your request. Such an idea would be an anathema to the "neighborhood" chain whose recipes and portion-control are dictated by the head office.

Palazzotto, like most Italian cooks, is conservative and traditional. His dishes are often robust, the flavors heady and the portions never small.

We start with one of the recited specials — marinated portobello mushrooms sauteed with onions and red peppers and topped with a generous serving of lump crabmeat and splashed with balsamic vinegar ($12.95), an ample beginning for two or three. The crabmeat is upstaged by the boldness of the other flavors. More than ever a luxury, lump crabmeat shouldn't have to compete. Maybe next time I'll ask for a humbler topping of a tangy cheese instead. Mussels, calamari, and other traditional seafood make a good beginning, as does a traditional antipasto platter. Appetizers here are often so good, you have to be careful not to take the edge off your appetite.

The menu no longer emphasizes pasta. It's rather unfortunate that Americans often think of pasta almost synonymously with Italian food. True, some form of pasta is almost always a part of a complete Italian meal; it is a course before the entree and not the entree itself. Angela's offers a side dish of pasta or salad with many of the entrees ($14.95-$28.95) so you can have a bit of pasta (and get it dressed only with a little olive oil so the sauce doesn't compete with your entree).

I have a succulent veal shank (osso buco), Florentine-style with spinach. Chef Michael also favors my request for a Florentine favorite — white beans, which are wonderful in the fragrant sauce. A filet of flounder sauteed in butter and finished with garlic, lemon, capers, is served alongside asparagus. Again, the flavors are hearty rather than delicate but nicely balanced.

Desserts ($5.90) are good, often made in-house. We finish with lemon sorbet served in a whole lemon and chocolate profiteroles with chocolate sauce, both fitting conclusions to a good but copious meal.

Angela's may not be in your neighborhood, but my guess is you'll soon feel at home.

Angela's Ristorante
425 Ridge Road at Forest
Dinner: Tuesday - Sunday from 5 p.m.-10 p.m.


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