Atmosphere: Warm and informal.
Price Range: Name one; there are bargains.
Hours: Mondays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to midnight; Saturdays 5 p.m. to midnight; Sundays 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Special Facilities: Accessible by wheelchair, though rest rooms are up a short flight of stairs. There are high chairs and booster seats. Free dinner parking.
Reservations: Not necessary.
Credit Cards: American Express, Bank American, Bank of Virginia, Carte Blanche, Diners Club, Master Charge, Visa.
We were barely in the left front door (there are two) of the Sorrento Room when the place passed its first test: Here was your basic nasty Monday night in December, and there were all sorts of contended diners from maybe ages 2 to 70 or so - and that's got to mean more than a few regulars.
And from all the handshakes, hi-hos and hugs that would ensue during the evening, we concluded that many a neighborhood fan of Italian food makes it a habit to return to Sorrento.
The reason for two front doors, if you care, is because Marrocco's Ristorente d'Italia and Sorrento Room is really two sizeable restaurants that have been grafted together. Either room is fine, but the one we drew for this visit seemed to have fewer men in coats and ties and more members of the booster-seat club.
By way of orientation for first-timers, the paper placemats over the candlelit red tablecloths are maps of Italy. On several walls are some sort-of deep friezes of gladiator doings and other Roman candids, along with selected free-floating busts and statues.
Then back by the kitchen door is a spectacularly wacky and gorgeous brass and copper cappuccino machine that's got to be Rube Goldberg's idea of how to make a cup of coffee. With all its marvelous pipes, nozzles and dials, this thing is Stars Wars, Italian Style - and it actually works.
But please have a seat, for the soft drinks and spiked bitter lemons have arrived and we are poring over the large menus, unaware for a brief while that there is also a small menu at tableside that lists some additional bargain selections.
Between these two shopping lists, there's something for any-sized appetitie or wallet, from meat balls on Italian breat at $2.50 or Italian sausage on bread of matching nationality with meat sauce, $2.75, pizzas from $2.75 to $6.25, spaghetti various ways from $3.35 to $3.75 and entrees from $4.60 to $9.75.
As it happened, three of us were thinking veal. But we shared our thoughts through three different veal dishes: alla Parmigiana at $5.10 for our 10-year-old son, alla Siciliano (eggplant is added to the melted cheese and tomato covering) at $5.65 for my wife, and for me, alla Castellana at $5.65, which is with ham in the melted mozarella.
Each was a generous and tasty portion, complemented by our various two-out-of-three decisions between lima beans, rigatoni or salad. I can speak for the rigatoni and limas, which I hereby do; but the salad-pickers were even more vocal in their praise of the bleu cheese and Italian dressings atop lettuce, chick peas, black olives, Italian hot peppers, tomatoes and heaven-knows-what-else.
Meanwhile, our 8-year-old daughter wound up with what is listed as a small bacon pizza for $3.50. In reality it was a 12-inch-diameter model, easily enough for at least two pizza-pirates. So in a familial gesture of compassion, my son and I teamed up to assist on this project.
After all this plus a big basket of fresh guess-what-nationality bread, there was an unusual hush when the word dessert was uttered. Not even a dish of tortoni, which a respected tipster had advised trying, could be accomodated.
Instead, my wife and I had coffee while the children took a farewell tour of the establishment. Our total bill came to $27.44, which, had we known about that outsized bacon pizza, could have been sliced a bit. Still, for those who are willing to lose a battle of the bulge now and then, there's much to be said for unconditional Sorrento.