Atmosphere: Elegant but informal; limited menu.
Price range: All entrees under $4.85. Half portions at half price for children under 12. No charge for children under 6.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Coffee and drinks served until 11 p.m. weekdays and 12:30 a.m. weekends.
Special facilities: Wheelchair patrons accommodated; no smoking section; outdoor and underground parking.
Credit cards; American Express, VISA, Master Charge.
Reservations: None accepted.
The Spaghetti Machine and Noodle Works is the latest restaurant to open in Rockville's White Flint shopping mall to serve customers, movie goers and browsers who simply enjoy the mall's highbrow stores and sparkling surroundings.
The Spaghetti Machine is informal but classy, staffed with wholesome young people, and done up in earthy brown tones, chrome and cane furniture and plants aplenty. It is so tasteful, so White Flint, you almost yearn for plastic flowers and a cashier with a lacquered beehive.
As the name suggests, the Spaghetti Machine's mainstay is pasta of all types, made on the premises. Children can watch the pasta person in a hygenically clean glass booth churning out the fettucine and rigatoni. Most of the noodles are made out of semolina flour, eggs and water; wheat noodles and spinach fettucine are available.
Depending on the type of sauce ordered, spaghetti and noodle dishes run from $4 to $4.70. Lasagna, cheese and meat ravioli, and canneloni (noodles stuffed with meat and cheese and covered with Marinara sauce) are offered, too.
My husband, two daughters and I started with salad, which is included with the entrees. Anyone who has lost most of their dressing over the side when tossing lettuce in a tiny bowl will applaud the Spaghetti Machine for serving their salad family style - in one big bowl.
Furthermore, the salad was exceptionally good, made with fresh romaine lettuce and a creamy Italian dressing laced with herbs and tasting faintly of anchovies and garlic.
Italian bread is served with dinner, but ours arrived hard and dry. Our waitress clearly had heard that complaint before and apologetically explained that because the Spaghetti Machine's bread has no preservatives, it becomes stale quickly. She tried, to no avail, to find a more presentable loaf, and finally offered us hot garlic bread toasted with butter, an improvement.
There is definitely a difference between commercially made and homemade paste. The homemade takes some getting used to as it has a chewier, more granular texture than the processed variety, but it also has more flavor and no preservatives. The Spaghetti Machine offers six different types of pasta.
The eight sauces all sounded tempting, but some were disappointing. My husband had carbonara - with Italian sausage, prosciutto ham and grated parmesan - but it was too thick and the ingredients were indistinguishable.
I had fettucine, wide, flat noodles - with the "classic" olive oil and butter sauce, which was bland and could have used a bolder hand on the garlic press.
The two girls ordered meat sauce over "shells." This dish came off the best, prodding us to hope that the 4-month-old Spaghetti Machine will continue to experiment and add more zing to their other sauces to complement their good pasta.
Non-noodle eaters can nip into an antipasto, $4.20, or a tuna salad platter, $4.50. Appetizers such as clams oregano and soup are served, too.
The children wound up their meals with butterscotch sundaes and my husband indulged in ice cream swimming in Amaretto, a liquer. The Spaghetti Machine makes a good cup of coffee, and offers a long list of espressos made with chocolate, brandy or bourbon and so on.
The bill for the four of us came to $30.52 for everything, including tip. Since our visit to the Spaghetti Machine, we have learned that children under 6 eat there free, definitely a deal.