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Thursday, February 22, 2001

Good company

Posted on Thu, Feb 22, 2001 at 4:00 AM

There are times when a quiet meal in quiet surroundings is all you want. No chatting from people nearby, no loud noise -- you get enough of that at work -- just sitting down in front of a plate of food and tucking in. Doesn't even matter what kind of food, really ... just peace.

On those days, don't go to Il Pescatore. But if you crave a good dinner in an atmosphere that will remind you more of Sunday afternoon at Aunt Marie's than Ristorante di Silenzio, head as quickly as possible to east Orlando and grab a table.

Marie, by the way, is usually at the front counter. She greets diners as if they're old friends, and the amazing thing is, most are. Before this place was Il Pescatore ("the fisherman"), it was Jocelyne's, a French and Italian place, and before that, just plain Italian as Sorrento's. Back then, Stefano Lacommare was the chef, and he and his wife Marie left in '95 to open Stefano's Trattoria on Aloma Avenue. But the little place got too little, and while Stefano's is still there under different ownership, Lacommare has returned to Primrose Drive.

With wood-paneled walls and uncovered wood tables, Il Pescatore is more relaxed than your typical restaurant. There's a never-ending flow of people walking in the front door, out the side door and heading to tables. There's talking, continuously -- chatter behind you, a discussion across the room, an explosion of laughter from the back. In other words, this is an Italian restaurant, the kind I'd all but given up on seeing again outside of New York's Arthur Avenue.

And the food lives up to that image. Nothing comes out of a jar. The cozze marinara appetizer ($6.95) consists of lovely mussels simply served on half-shell with a rich tomato sauce full of garlic and a slightly dark basil taste. There's an extensive list of pasta dishes, including sautéed tortellini with cream sauce and a touch of prosciutto ($6.95), and more than a dozen sauces that you can mix with your choice of pasta.

There are almost too many dinner choices, from traditional house specialties like "trippa del Pescatore" (tripe in tomato sauce; $12.95) to linguini with clams, conch or squid ($10.95). The cannelloni ($10.95) is splendid: pasta envelopes stuffed with ground chicken, ricotta cheese and mushrooms that tasted like they were marinated in garlic, then topped with mozzarella. The chicken special on one visit was a sheet of chicken breast wrapped around a four-cheese risotto. The softball-sized dish is baked, then served in a marsala wine sauce.

Go welcome Stefano back to the neighborhood. Tell 'em Joe sent ya.

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