We were hungry down to our toes the other night. Big bowls of pasta sounded like they would do the job. So we headed for Frascatis an Italian restaurant in Bethesda. Bethesda is booming with new and charming Italian restaurants. Frascati's rates comparably as an old hand. We thought we'd see what they could do with some of our old favorities particularly in the pasta division.
We ambled in without reservations at 8 on a Wednesday evening and found the restaurant buzzing. There were only two or three empty tables. A hostess seated us at a table that faced one of the wood paneled walls. We weren't crazy about the idea and asked if we could have one of the empty central tables.
There are reservations for those our hostess said and offered no other solution.
Sulking just a bill we stayed at our table and studied the menu. Our son always anxious to do detective work discovered that no one ever appeared for the other tables. We sulked some more but took refuge in a half carafe of white wine. $2.75 and a menu that offered a good variety of choices at reasonable prices. The pastas which ranged from linguine at cozze spaghetti and mussells to manicotti cannellom fettucine tagliatelle Iasagna tortellmi and gnocchi were in the $4.75 to $5 range. There were 10 veal dished ranging from $6 to $6.75 six fish entrees from $6 to $7 each and three entrees that filed no particular category - eggplant parmigiana for $4.50 chicken breasts with ham and cheese for $6 and pietanze capricciosa (chicken stuffed with zucchine, sausage and green peppers) for $6.75.
When you're hungry such choices are dazzling, but our son took two minutes to select lasagna $4.75. He wouldn't look any further. Our daughter said she wanted eggplant $4.50, and my husband and I decided to order and share a veal and pasta dish.
In addition to the main courses which didn't come with salads we ordered one minestrone soup, $1.25 for my husband and an Italian antipasto for two $4.50 for the rest of us.
The soup arrived first and was superb. It had large chunks of vegetables and bits of noodle adrift in a rich broth. The antipasto was also quite nice - a large mound of iceberg lettuce, topped with thinly sliced ham and surrounded by folded rounds of Italian salami bologna and cheese and egg halves, slice tomatoes, olives and chili peppers. A waiter brought us the dish, three extra bread and butter. We found the bread sweeter and softer than we like, but the salad was crisp and fresh and took the edge off our appetites.
Those of us not facing the wall could look out and enjoy the Frascati setting. There were dark paneled walls covered with oil paintings of still life fruits, rural scenes. Venetian canals and picturesque side streets all framed with heavy gilt carved frames. The tables were set with red table cloths covered with smaller white cloths. In one corner we spied a glass enclosed cupboard filled with miniature dolls dressed in unusual costumes.
Without too much delay our main courses arrived. All the dishes got high marks. The eggplant was thick and layered in a tomato sauce that tasted fresh and homemade. The lasagna was steaming hot. It had a heavier, meatier flavor but was made with the same tomato sauce base as the eggplant.
The linguine with fresh clams, $4.75, which my husband and I ordered, was heavy on the garlic and on the clams. Our other dish, piccatine di vitello, $6.50 had razor thin rounds of veal seasoned with a lovely lemon sauce. It was served with overcooked peas and delicious eggplant, the same eggplant dish that my daughter was having. The veal was beautifully prepared and moist. Who could ask for anything more?
Well, to be frank, we could. From the time we sat down at a table we didn't like until the dishes from our main course were cleared, no one in Frascati's - neither a waiter nor the hostes - came by to see if we needed anything. Our hostess asked whether everything was all right as she cleared our entree plates, but that isn't quite the same as asking the same question a few minutes after dinner is served.
Frascati's had some lovely looking pastries on a tea cart and we decided to end our meal by sharing two of them: a pastry covered with powdered sugar and filed with custard and a Napoleon. Both were $1 each and both were good.
Our bill for two appetizers four main courses, a half carafe of wine and two deserts came to $31. The price was right: the food was quite good. Only the service was less hospitable than we're used to in Italian restaurants in Bethesda. Fraseali Italian Restaurant
4806 Rugby Ave., Bethesda: 652-9514.
Atmosphere: Dark paneling, gilt framed oil paintings, red velvet drape almost darkly romantic.
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m., Satuday from 5 to 10:30 p.m.: Sunday from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Price Range: From $4.75 for most pasta dishes to $7 for top-of-the-line veal and shrimp dishes.
Credit Cards: Diners Club, American Express, Visa and Master Charge.
Reservations: A good idea, even during the week.
Special facilities: Accessible to patrons in wheelchairs, parking on the street or in the evening. In adjacent bank parking lot; no children's menu.