Scotto's does pasta right

April 29, 1999|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,Special to the Sun

It was some of the best pasta in recent memory. Fettuccine in a saffron-colored cream with nuggets of lobster, shrimp and crab. The sauce was a revelation -- so light that it didn't weigh down the noodles, so delicately flavored that it didn't mask the sweet essence of seafood nestled on top.

The chef behind this beautiful dish is Aniello Scotto, who along with his wife, Christa, owns Scotto's Cafe. We sampled the seafood-laden fettuccine crostacei on a Wednesday night, when Scotto's offers its prix-fixe menu for $21.95. (The dish turns up often on the specials' list for $19.95.)

At the prix-fixe rate, we feasted on a full bowl of rich lobster bisque, a plate of garlicky mussels on toasted crostini, a large house salad of baby greens, the seafood pasta, a tartufo for dessert and coffee.

Not everything is quite so fancy at Scotto's. In fact, the menu lists a dozen pasta dishes under $10 -- from lasagna to potato gnocchi with pesto. Each is served with a house salad and warm, crusty bread.

Don't feel as if you're missing out on something wonderful if you order a simple plate of pasta with marinara. The spicy sauce makes spaghetti sing. It was studded with so many chunks of garlic that at first we thought they were pine nuts. A cluster of basil leaves was tossed in at the last minute to infuse the sauce with a lovely fragrance.

Dishes are cooked to order here, so if garlic and peppers are anathema to you, request your dinner without them. Of course, you'd miss out on some wonderful things. For instance, the savory punch of the complimentary bruscetta, topped with a garlicky fresh tomato mix. Or the big, bold Mediterranean flavors of chicken di sovizio. For this dish, tender, boneless breasts were matched with a lemon-wine sauce full of garlic, capers, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes.

We liked Scotto's treatment of the Italian classic veal saltimbocca. Very thin medallions of veal were layered with prosciutto and mozzarella and bathed in a light butter and garlic sauce. A mound of sauteed button mushrooms sat on one side of the plate, diced eggplant on the other.

We had just a few quibbles about our meal. We'd have preferred a better house vinaigrette for our salads, and more cheese on our antipasto rustico than the smoked mozzarella (in particular the aged provolone the menu promised). Our soup could have been hotter, and the sauce for our chicken di sovizio less oily.

On the whole, though, our meal was full of delightful surprises. Food is only part of the appeal at Scotto's. The decor is inviting, with lots of comfortable booths next to warm, brick-colored walls. The staff is friendly, and the wine list is full of interesting choices under $20. You can even finish up with a glass of chilled vinsanto, to go along with desserts like spumoni and Italian pastries.

Scotto's Cafe

521-D Jermor Lane, 140 Village Shopping Center, Westminster

410-876-6303

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: Appetizers, $2.50-$7.50; entrees, $8.95-$16.95

Food: * * * 1/2

Service: * * * 1/2

Atmosphere: * * *

Ratings system: Outstanding: * * * ; Good * * *; Fair or uneven * *; Poor *

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