A Taste of Old Italy in a New Spot
By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 28, 2008
At first glance: When Bethesda favorite Olazzo decided to expand to Silver Spring, it opted to restore one of downtown's remaining rowhouses, last occupied by Half Moon Barbecue, rather than file into one of the new developments. Seven months' worth of elbow grease later, the corrugated iron bar has been replaced with marble and the Formica tabletops with wood. Walls have been given a coat of sponged stucco. A few high, square windows, plastic grapevines and wine barrels line the heights. Although you're upstairs, the illusion is of being in a wine cellar. Roughly chisled beams stretch overhead. There's even a "fireplace" upstairs and in the bar -- actually an elevated, flat-screen TV that plays a video of a fire.
On the menu: The Pietrobono brothers, owners of the original Olazzo in Bethesda, have not messed with success; the menus are identical. The choices are fairly limited and traditional rather than creative, but they are carefully executed, not overly heavy, and judiciously seasoned. Entrees come with a sizable green salad; most pastas and the house salad can be customized with shrimp, chicken, meatball or sausage.
Only at lunch is there a "low-carb" selection of dishes served with sauteed vegetables instead of pasta.
At your service: The staff is friendly in a way that assumes newcomers are bound to become regulars; the downside is that they can become distracted conversing with other customers. Usually, a server is quick to bring crusty, warm bread to the table and to pour olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping, but one night the bread never appeared (although the server kept a close eye on cocktail glasses), and on another, the dipping dish went unrefilled. On the other hand, dishes of ground Parmesan are left on the table.
On the table: The fried calamari appetizer arrives in a martini glass the size of a small pitcher (an Olazzo tradition). It is unusually good: crisp outside, tender inside with a slight lemony tang. The bruschetta (that tasty bread again) is topped with chopped tomatoes that are still firm, not dissolved into sauce, and basil.
Lasagna, available with or without meat sauce, has light sheets of pasta, not the thicker, soggier noodles of dormitory casseroles. Chicken cardinale is a favorite signature dish. Moist chunks of white meat are tossed with perfectly cooked penne coated, not drenched, with a cream sauce tinted by sun-dried tomatoes. Linguini with clams and white wine sauce is particularly good; the clams are sauteed, chopped and returned to their shells for presentation on linguini that is exactly al dente. The veal piccata, in a delicate wine sauce with a tang of capers, is also good, but the angel hair is apt to be soft. Grilled salmon is a pleasant surprise, moist inside, topped with a mild mango salsa, and accompanied by a tangle of mixed sauteed vegetables. The classic sausage-and-peppers pasta gets a little extra class thanks to the red and yellow peppers (rather than the blander, bitter green) and commendably lean rather than greasy sausages.
What to avoid: Steak Milanese, the Italian version of chicken-fried steak, is only fair, so lean and thin that pan-frying can make it tough and bland.
Wet your whistle: Olazzo has a nice wine list, reasonably broad and moderately priced. Most wines are available by the glass. On Mondays, bottles are half-price. Specialty cocktails are $5 on Tuesdays.