Thursday, March 22, 2001

Mob friendly

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

It's amazing how perceptions change. It used to be someone said "Soprano" and images of gowned women singing onstage leapt to mind. Now the only caterwauling anyone is familiar with is between Tony and Carmela.

As far as I can tell, Sopranos "New York Style" Ristorante & Pizzeria owes its name to the vocal range, not The Family. Although The Boys probably would like it here.

Sopranos is a big, Pizza-Hutty kind of place, and it is a family (small "f") spot, so be prepared for wandering children. There's a red florescent light around the perimeter of the ceiling, which casts an odd pinkish glow to everything, and signed photos hang on most of the walls, including that of the great Italian tenor Jerry Lewis. Yes, Deano is there, too.

The menu is very large, with sauces of the parmigiana, scaloppini and marsala varieties covering the meat and eggplant choices. I liked several appetizers -- the fried calamari ($5.95) was superb, about as tender as any I've had in town. (Be sure to ask for lots of lemon, if you're like me and don't like it with tomato sauce.) It's not exactly an Italian dish, but the salmon carpaccio ($8.95) is another good choice, thin shavings of smoked salmon with lovely capers and onions, along with diced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil.

I wish that the squid in the "zuppa di pesce" ($14.95) was as tender as the appetizer, but it was a bit disappointing. Still, the dish itself was almost worth ordering just for the deeply flavored mussels, which benefited from a thick and not-too-sweet marinara spiked with wine. If I'd known that the squid were chewy and the shrimp on the small side, I would have just ordered the mussels alone.

You'll find an excellent chicken piccata here, tender breasts in a sauce perfectly balanced between tart lemon and sweet wine. And, of course, more capers. (Is there a new industrial caper factory somewhere in the Midwest?)

You can see the kitchen/staging area from the dining room, and this is where the takeout pizzas are boxed. I lost count at 10 people in that small space, and to watch the ballet, as they barely avoid each other, is entertainment.

Service is good but easily distracted when the place gets busy. My advice: Order everything at once, because it may be a while until you see your server again.

If you're looking for gourmet Italian, fuggetaboudit. Sopranos ain't the place. But you will get an undemanding and decent meal.


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