Oro Pomodoro

Italian
$$$$ ($14 and under)
Find pasta in all shapes and sizes.
Mon-Thu: 11:30 am-2:30 pm
4:30-10 pm; Fri-Sat: 11:30 am-22 pm; Sundays noon-9 pm
(Rockville)
301-251-1111
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Editorial Review

Oro Pomodoro Has the Midas Touch
By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 13, 2008

At first glance: Oro Pomodoro's front windows (actually folding doors that open in good weather and segue into outdoor seating) face the Rockville Town Square green and offer a lively view of the families and fiestas that have made this part of Rockville popular. The gleaming marble bar stretches along the left side of the restaurant and its open kitchen. A wood-burning oven and wide grill are across the back of the honeycomb-gold walls.

On the menu: The name is a sort of multi-layered pun: "oro," meaning gold, and "pomodoro" ("apple of gold") meaning tomato. And for good reason. The restaurant uses a variety of good tomatoes: cherry and grape tomatoes on pizzas and in pastas; roasted tomatoes, especially topped with burrata, an extra creamy mozzarella; and appropriately, "golden" sliced yellow tomatoes topped with goat cheese and drizzled with good olive oil. (Because of the recent alert that some raw red tomatoes have infected scores of people with salmonella, the restaurant is not currently serving raw tomatoes.)

"Oro" is also a tribute to the restaurant's Neopolitan pizzamaker Vincenzo Esposito, a descendant of Raffaele Esposito, who invented the margherita pizza. Owner Savino Racine (Primi Piatti, Finemondo) says Esposito has "hands of gold." "Pomodoro" also refers to a classic tomato sauce, similar to marinara but smoother and more intense. Oro's fresh pomodoro doubles as a dip for appetizers and a sauce for pasta. It is an unusually good balance of acid and olive oil.

Other star ingredients are the airy mozzarella and the first-rate pizza dough, which is also grilled as bread sticks.

At your service: The staff appears to be a mix of veterans and newbies, so sometimes you're double-teamed and occasionally left to wait. In the first weekends after its opening last month, Oro proved so popular that management had to cut off seatings because the kitchen was overwhelmed. (Staff smartly offered free items to disgruntled patrons.) The bartenders are almost theatrically outgoing. If you have kids at the table, Racine may provide a little diversion; he's an accomplished amateur magician. Oro Pomodoro is first-come, first-served after 6:30 p.m., so larger parties should call before coming to check availability.

On the table: The mussels appetizer is quite fine, with more than a dozen mussels in a delicious wine broth. Several pieces of bread are thoughtfully layered in the bottom of the dish to provide extra sopping pleasure.

The fried rice balls with a molten heart of mozzarella are addictive, crisp and greaseless; the croquettes filled with silky potato are a close second.

The pastas come in 10 shapes, each with distinct toppings, and are satisfying even in half-portions. The lightly sweet fiocchi, little purses of pasta stuffed with pears and robiola cheese is a lovely warm-weather change from the usual Italian fare. The seafood calamarata (pasta cut into large rings resembling squid) is a star, the pasta perfectly cooked and the seafood tender. (Squid fans should also indulge in the earthy linguini with calamari and rapini.) The tortellini, stuffed with minced veal and pork and dressed in a cream sauce with fresh peas and crisped prosciutto, is rich but not over-the-top. Salads are also well-portioned. The arugula is dressed simply with oil and lemon and a smattering of grape tomatoes. Oro Pomodoro offers 20 varieties of 12-inch pizzas. Try the al tartufo with mushrooms and truffle oil or the house pizza with golden tomatoes and goat cheese, or create your own pie. Pizzas have a thin crust except around the sturdy rim. They're also lightly layered; the toppings and the dough are equal flavor partners.

What to avoid: Don't go overboard with the bread. Since nearly everything (mozzarella tastings, olive oil tastings, salads) comes with breadsticks, you can fill up fast, although the bread can be erratically grilled at rush hour. The mini eggplant parmigiana appetizer is delicate beneath but over-sauced with pomodoro on top. Though most of the cheeses are first-rate, the parmigiana is pedestrian.

Wet your whistle: Oro Pomodoro has a short, mid-priced Italian wine list and a full bar.