Taste of Italy in Towson


September 29, 2004|By Tom Waldron | Tom Waldron,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Portofino is one of those stunning Italian towns that belongs on a jigsaw puzzle -- colorful buildings soaring above the sea. I haven't managed to make it to the real Portofino, but the other day I ventured into its namesake in the heart of Towson.

And, well, our Portofino has all the charm possible for a restaurant on the first floor of a bland five-story office building next to a busy stretch of Towsontown Boulevard.

But don't get me wrong. We rather liked Portofino Ristorante. One big reason was that the staffers working behind the counter could not have been nicer. They smiled and actually seemed happy to have our business. After a couple of years of reviewing carryout restaurants, I can assure you that such a sentiment is rare indeed.

While we waited for our order, we, um, admired the view of cars streaming along outside the expansive plate-glass windows. There was, at least, a nice reproduction of a watercolor of the original Portofino, and some nice oldies playing from a small sound system.

As for the food, we agreed that it was more than adequate, even if nothing was memorable.

The official cheese-steak taster inhaled yet another one ($4.95), stuffed, as usual, with fried onions and ketchup. (Some may consider ketchup an affront to cheese-steak tradition -- like putting mayonnaise on a corned-beef sandwich -- but that's the way it goes in our house.) A small cheese pizza ($8.95) lacked zip and could have used a few more minutes in the oven, but we liked the dough and sauce.

We tried a couple of pasta dishes and were pleased with both. Spaghetti alla carbonara ($8.95) was, as I had hoped, a gooey concoction of cheese, cream and egg, flavored with bits of bacon, which added a hint of smoky flavor. And chicken brunello ($11.95) brought together chunks of chicken breast and mushrooms in a creamy sauce.

There were several desserts. But neither the rice pudding ($2.95) nor the tiramisu ($3.95) rang our bells.

Portofino is an easy walk from the offices and shops of Towson, as well as from Towson University. Parking can be a challenge, particularly during the day; in the evening, there are plenty of on-street spots.

Portofino Ristorante

Food: **1/2

Service: ****

Waiting area: ***

Parking: *1/2

Where: 200 Washington Ave., Towson

Phone: 410-296-7788

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

Prices: Salads, seafood, veal, chicken, pizza, sandwiches and pasta, from $3.25 to $16.95; credit cards accepted

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

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