La Grotta 

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This aptly named downtown establishment is the sister-restaurant to Amici and features a similar high-end Italian menu in a much more comfortable, quiet and spacious environment. The rough plaster and coarse dark wood give an ambience that seems as rustic and authentic as its food.

The chef here pays careful attention to every detail, from the excellent focaccia, served with a delicious sundried tomato and olive oil dipping sauce, to the perfectly seasoned vinaigrette that adorns the house salad topped with crisp shaved fennel. The antipasti here is superb, as are the homemade ravioli specials, the pastas and the gnocchi — all of which are excellent as entrées or shared as first courses. In addition to the usual seafoods and meats, La Grotta regularly features interesting game specialties such as quail, venison and buffalo.

Its downtown location and pleasant ambience makes La Grotta a favorite place to escape from the rat race for a quiet and enjoyable lunch break.

1218 E. Cary St. 644-2466

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