Open for lunch Monday through Friday noon to 2:30 p.m; for dinner Monday through Thursday from 5:30 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Closed Sunday. AE, MC, V, DC. Reservations recommended. Prices: At lunch main dishes $6 to $10. At dinner appetizers $3 to $4, pastas $6.50 to $8.50, main dishes $7.50 to $13. Full dinner with wine, tax and tip $25 to $35 a person.
We finally got representation in Congress, and then a subway, but Washington could never rest easy until it had a really good, moderately priced Italian restaurant downtown. If Galileo keeps up the good work, the city can stop worrying.
In place of the well-loved Spanish restaurant, Torremolinos, we have a 54-seat Italian restaurant that reminds us why Italy is so refreshing. The room is simple, with greenery and wercolors against the rough-textured white walls and cleverly placed tables that allow privacy in the small space. Long, slim homemade bread sticks in baskets serve as centerpieces and start you immediately on something delicious.
The menu is a handwritten array of appetizers, soups, pastas and entrees that change twice a day. The market decides the menu rather than the menu directing the shopping, explains the maitre d'. With such variable menus I can't recommend from among the dishes you might find today or next month; I can only relate what worked best on the days I visited. In my experience, there are few chances to go wrong.
After the bread sticks, the homemade rolls arrive -- pretty golden ones with crust and body. And if you want to do best by Galileo, try a bottle of Italian wine. The list also changes with the menu and is both modestly priced and knowledgeably chosen. The Tocai Friulano has been $10.75, the '75 Bal di Cava Brunello di Montalcino $23.50, the '64 Fossi Chianti $19.50, for example.
How could one pass up appetizers such as a mixed plate of infant eggplants, tiny fresh artichokes, roasted red and yellow peppers and mushrooms, marinated lightly in olive oil, dressed just right and the peppers sparked with anchovy? It even looks utterly charming. But then there are marinated artichokes Roman-style, or prosciutto with figs, or fried squid, perhaps. There might be polenta with bagna cauda or with cheese melting through it, and the polenta alone is glorious. (By now you may want some help in narrowing down: the fonduta -- melted fontina cheese served with toast or asparagus on my visits -- was boring and grainy.)
The soups I've seen were tomato with basil and garlic, tripe with vegetables, chick pea, bean with pig skin, and lentil. And if the lentil is the indicator it usually is, the soups are very good.
The pastas escape the routine as few other Italian restaurants' do. The agnolotti might be stuffed typically, with pinach and ricotta, or distinctively, with beets. A painstakingly made risotto is hard enough to find, but Galileo goes even farther, flavoring it with porcini mushrooms or -- deliciously -- with pumpkin. The thin and supple homemade noodles might be tossed with gorgonzola, tomato or wild mushrooms, or pastas might be combined with crab meat or with salami and prosciutto. But try something adventurous. Plain tortellini with cream and beautifully balanced pesto can be had equally well elsewhere; the risottos and polentas are rarer treats.
The same advice holds for main courses. The single dullest dish I have tried at Galileo was veal scaloppine with wild mushrooms. No special bite or savor or juiciness here, just reasonably good saut,eed veal scallops. But cornish hen baked whole, wrapped in leaves and then buried in rock salt, was the most succulent and subtle taste that bird could acquire. Loin of lamb roasted with rosemary -- crusty and rare, sliced thin and fanned out around a slice of kidney -- was so delicious that I wish I could have tried the veal as well, prepared the same way. Bollito misto is the Italian version of boiled beef, only in this case it was a rich and hearty combination of butter-tender beef, cotechino sausage, pig's knuckle and chicken (unfortunately dry) arranged with baby carrots, tiny squash and a skewer of extravagant mustard fruits, which look like jewels. Large shrimp were grilled with their shells, infused with herbed oil and smokily crusty, also served with those charming baby vegetables. And even plain grilled swordfish was as well crusted and juicy and sea-fresh as any I have encountered. Mostly, the main dishes have been the best of simple cooking, but a cod fillet with tomatoes and capers came with a bitter aftertaste and had no special qualities. Yet if there are misses, there are more than enough reasons to return -- to try the lamb chops with artichokes or the roasted pigeon, to see how they bake their sea bass or saucetheir mussels, to decide whether quail are better saut,eed with wild mushrooms or with figs, to discover the Italian way with wild boar or venison.
Concentrate on first courses and main dishes. The desserts are interesting, but not as exceptional as the main dishes. A strawberry spumoni was no more than a decent frozen mousse; profiteroles were filled with a soft, rich custard but their chocolate sauce lacked depth; and fresh peaches browned under the grill with a crunchy, airy topping were quite good, but couldn't match the exquisiteness of the antipasti or the the salt-baked hen.
I could wish for less noise at Galileo, or for a dish to be improved here or there. But mostly I could wish for a half-dozen such intensely committed and capable Italian restaurateurs to open similar restaurants around the city. Until then, and as long as it continues to perform as well as its debut, a lot of attention is likely to revolve around Galileo.
-- Phyllis Chasanow-Richman
Who Cares If There's No Snow -- Heading north to ski need not be hours of self-denial. If your road goes near New Haven, divert to Pepe's; in fact, it's worth scheduling your trip to avoid Tuesdays, when Pepe's is closed. The red pizza is world-class, with its chewy, blistered, yeast-tangy and brick- oven-charred crust and sausage perfumed with fennel. But the white clam pizza is incomparable -- strewn with garlic, sprinkled with oregano, laced with oil, topped with fresh clams and then cooked just enough so that the clams retain their juiciness. Pepe's is at 157 Wooster St. (203/865-5762).
On your way back, try Stick to Your Ribs on Honeyspot Road and Stratford Avenue in Stratford, Conn., just a block off Exit 31 of U.S. 95 (203/377-1752). Authors Jane and Michael Stern, who steered us here, insist it is the best barbecue outside of Texas. A $2 pork shoulder sandwich is big, juicy hunks of mesquite-and-oak-smoked meat slathered with sauce of depth and tang, and it is on a chewy, crusty roll. Beef brisket was dryer when we tried it; ribs were meaty and deeply smoked. Hunks of meat plump up a good brunswick stew, and there are zesty though unremarkable jalapeno corn sticks and chili as well as barbecued chicken. An offering your dentist will appreciate your missing is a frozen cone stuffed with pecan pie filling -- a wonderful, caramely first bite but, further along, an ache to eat.