Restaurant reviewers generally don't like writing about Little Italy. Even if they like eating in Little Italy. (And for all the griping that goes on, most of us wouldn't turn up our noses at a platter of decent fettuccine.)
No, the problem isn't our gastric juices, it's our creative juices. There is never, ever anything new to say about Little Italy; one might as well take a generic review, one mentioning the pasta, the veal and the Vaccaro's cannoli, the schmaltzy music, friendly service and red-and-green color scheme, and plug in a different name and address for every new place that opens.
Straight down the line, Italian Way does it the Little Italian way, from the flag colors to that famous cannoli. (Although this time the music wasn't too schmaltzy; Verdi's O.K. with me, even played on an accordion. And homemade chocolate cheesecake is a worthy cannoli alternative.) But although it doesn't particularly stir the imagination, it's a very pleasant place to eat. Italian Way may follow the formula, but it follows it well.
We soon discovered that everything we ordered, including the appetizers and probably even the dessert, would make an ample dinner all by itself. The Caesar salad ($4.25) was Caesar-sized, and amply fortified with garlic; although there were no visible anchovies, their taste was present and welcome. An appetizer portion of fried calamari ($7.15) was also hefty, making us wonder what the entree portion, which costs twice as much, must look like. The squid was properly cooked -- it had some bounce, but hadn't yet transmogrified into rubber -- and the batter was light and crunchy and dusted with Italian seasonings.
Italian Way seems to be proud of its homemade pastas, which come in a batch of different shapes and unusual flavors, including spinach, carrot and garlic. My dining partner opted for the rigatoni with broccoli in white sauce ($8.25) -- a tasty, if caloric, way to get your greens. Topping the pasta tubes was a veritable forest of broccoli florets, cooked to tenderness and napped in a delicately voluptuous cream.
The shrimp scampi ($14.50) was notable mainly for its generosity. As we shrimp-lovers have resigned ourselves to a pauper's ration of shellfish, even in expensive dishes, it was heartening to see a plate fairly heaped with shrimp. Its sauce was chunky with garlic, thoroughly cooked so that it had savor without bite.
Our entrees were served with good hot Italian bread, acceptable linguine with tomato sauce (and the waiter left the Parmesan with us!) and zucchini that had been flavored with caraway seeds instead of the promised dill. I'm beginning to think that "dill" is restaurantese for "whatever herb we have in the kitchen."
Where: 248 Albemarle St.
Hours: Open 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays
Credit Cards: AE, MC, V
Features: Italian dishes
Non-smoking section? No