Flavorful and Filling, Biscotti Hits the Spot
By Moira E. McLaughlin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 31, 2008; Page WE12
At a glance: "Bottle of red, bottle of white," Billy Joel sings. " . . . We'll get a table near the street/ In our old familiar place/ You and I,/ face to face."
Biscotti Ristorante Italiano in Derwood may not be in New York and may not have any tables near the street, but there is something familiar about the place, and reminiscent of Joel's song "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant." Biscotti is intimate and comfortable, simply decorated with painted red bouquets on the wall between pastel canvases depicting calming Italian seaside villages. It's an oasis in the otherwise standard strip mall where it is located, surrounded by such stores as RadioShack, McDonald's and Karen's Nail Salon.
With only 15 tables and most of them for two, there's plenty of opportunity for quiet conversation and a slow, filling meal. The accordion and mandolin music in the background playing arias adds to the mellow and romantic scene. The restaurant envelopes visitors in a warm, calm feeling similar to the effects of that first glass of red wine. It's easy to picture Brenda and Eddie, the two young lovers from Joel's song, oohing and ahhing at each other across the table over their spaghetti and meatballs.
At your service: Admit it: When you go to a small place such as Biscotti, you want to feel important. You want to feel like you're in a neighborhood joint where the waiters know your name. Biscotti treats its regulars well and serves everyone with a smile.
On the menu: It's a menu of many sauces: pistachio, light cream, white wine, marinara, rosemary, brandy, all made right there. The penne a la vodka with salmon, one of our waiter's favorites, was creamy and fresh, and the cubes of salmon were surprisingly flaky and light. The saltimbocca Romana, veal with prosciutto and mozzarella in a rosemary sauce, was tender and came with a bowl of pasta. You won't walk away hungry.
But for something a little more standard, the lasagna hits the spot. It's a huge serving of the layered pasta dish covered in Biscotti's meat sauce and sprinkled with fresh basil.
The minestrone was not as thick and hearty as I had expected, but as I slurped it to the bottom of the bowl, it warmed me so much, it seemed to cure my runny nose. This is a great soup for a chilly evening when you feel a little under the weather. With cubes of potato, carrot, zucchini and onion, it's a healthful starter.
Another fresh appetizer is the crostini a la checca. It's a simple dish: bread brushed with olive oil, topped with chunks of halved cherry tomatoes and mozzarella and sprinkled with basil.
All you really need for a good meal are fresh ingredients, and that's what you'll find here.
If you like tiramisu, Biscotti's is delicious. It's layer upon layer of sponge cake and ladyfingers so light and fluffy, it almost melts in your month. But if you're a chocolate lover, the thick, rich chocolate cake drizzled with raspberry, chocolate and cream tastes more expensive than the $4.95 price. And you might have to try the signature biscotti. They taste fresher than your average biscotti, which to me often seem stale.
What to avoid: The lentil soup is flavorless and watery, as was the chicken Parmesan. (It was as if the kitchen didn't drain the pasta thoroughly.) Another slight disappointment is the lack of a bar. It's a tiny restaurant, but my dining companion and I agreed that a few stools in front of the takeout bar could add additional charm to Biscotti and lure in a few more couples looking to share a bottle of wine and a bite.
Wet your whistle: Biscotti offers six white wines by the bottle and seven reds. All but two of the bottles are less than $30, and some as low as $18 or $20. Wine also comes by the glass and a few by the half-bottle. (But what's the point of the half-bottle?) Peroni is available, as well as some nondescript beers such as Miller Lite and Heineken.
Bottom line: It's hard to find a dinner deal that combines good food with good ambiance. Biscotti is one of the few. Leave the kids at home. Leave your stress at the door. Share a bottle of wine or two and whisper to your mate like the young lovers you once were. Be like Brenda and Eddie -- before the summer of '75.