For this restaurant to be appealing the food doesn't even have to be great -- and it isn't. But this is one of the last remaining unpretentious Italian restaurants of the red-checked- tablecloth genre. It is the kind of homey place where you just assume a whole family is pitching in to make you feel comfortable and well fed. The prices are modest -- pizzas start at $3.50 and pastas at $4.50, and no veal dish is over $9. Furthermore, the choices are often seasonal and broad enough to encompass about seven veal dishes, seafoods from stuffed mussels to lobster soup, and about 16 pastas from spaghetti and meatballs to specials like fettuccine with gorgonzola.
The food is certainly decent: the veal is plentiful and of good quality, the pastas taste homemade and al dente, the mushrooms and mussels are fresh. But the kitchen forgoes such refinements as cooking the raw wine and flour taste out of sauces, and the tomato sauce has but slight flavor. A cornish hen stuffed with veal would be a knockout if the hen tasted freshly cooked, since the veal stuffing is meaty and pungent with herbs. Stuffed mussels, on the other hand, taste more of oil than of seafood. And pizza is made with a nice thin, crusty and chewy dough but with just ordinary toppings.
Service at Amalfi is attentive -- though be warned that this is a very popular restaurant, and the waiters tend to act harassed. Ours didn't warn us that the fried mushrooms we ordered as an appetizer were identical to those that were served as side dishes, but otherwise he was helpful. It is a restaurant that doesn't take reservations, though, and even a decent moderately priced dinner becomes less attractive when it requires a long wait. 12307 Wilkins Ave. Rockville. 770-7888. L $3.50-$9.50, D $4.50- $22. L daily ex Sat, Sun. D daily. Close Mon. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Res sugg. Beer and wine.