On a recent wet and muggy Sunday that had us all feeling very uncivilized, we descended on Pines of Rome, a neighborhood restaurant known for excellent food and fair prices. Our party included my two children, two of their friends, my mother-in-law, my husband and myself.
My husband and I had been to Pines of Rome once before, on a Saturday night when the wait for a table was an hour. The restaurant does not take reservations. On Sunday evening at 6:30 it was less crowded and we were seated immediately in the back room.
The restaurant is not elegant. It depends on red-checked oilcloth table coverings and candles stuck in Chianti bottles to offset the dark walls and fake wood paneling.
There is no children's menu, but we noticed that several parents with young children had an extra plate for their toddlers and were sharing their ample main course with them. Since our children have more mature appetites, we couldn't hope for any such bargain.
We hoped they would take advantage of the diversified menu, which features homemade pastas, fresh seafood and lots of veal dishes. Pines of Rome is also known to do wonders with clams and mussels, squid and octopus. The children decided on pizza.
It seemed a shame to settle for pizza but the Pines of Rome touch with this ordinary of dish proved to be as fine as it is with more complicated fare. The pizza crust was light and thin, the tomato sauce well flavored. There are lots of cheese and the faint aroma of garlic. We ordered one large peperoni for $5.50, one small sausage at $3.50 and two small salads at $1 each for the four children, aged 9-11, to share. That food, plus the generous portions of Italian bread served in wicker baskets, was enough for them.
We adults tried more exotic dishes. My mother-in-law had veal Milanese ($4.75), which came with a side order of spaghetti. She was delighted with it.
My husband had a special of the day, veal roast, which came on the bone and with a side order of spaghetti. His dish easily won the best-of-the-day award. It was well seasoned and tender. The price, however, was not shown on the menu and, in retrospect, we should have asked. While the homemade pastas are $3 to $3.50, and the veal and seafood dishes in the $4 to $6 range, the special was $7. I had the fish special, sea bass, also $7, but it came with spaghetti and a garlic-tomato sauce.
Between our main courses, two shared salads and the fine crusty bread, we couldn't even think about dessert and coffee. The bill for seven people came to $36.25, and that included a half-liter of white wine for $2.75 and a beer for 75 cents.
Pines of Rome, 4709 Hampden Lane, Bethesda; 657-8775. Open 11:30 to 11:30 Tuesday through Saturday; 4 p.m. to 11:30 on Sunday; closed Monday. Accepts major credit cards. Reservations for large parties only. Interior steps make restaurant inaccessible to wheel-chair patrons.