Hours: Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Atmosphere: Shopping-center modern. Price Range: $6 to $14 for pastas, meat and fish entrees; children's menu, $3.25. Credit Cards: Visa, Master Card, American Express. Reservations: Yes; necessary on wekends. Special Facilities: Parking in shoppiing center lot; accessible to the handicapped; childern's menu and booter seats.
"If I Loved You," sang Debby, her sweet voice carrying across the dining room and over the plates of lasagna, veal parmesan and pollo cacciatore that were streaming out of Caruso's kitchen. Our arival in midsong and seating at a stage-side table did not cause Debby to miss a phrase or high note.
After Debby's solo, Bob took the stage and sang "If I Were a Rich Man." Then Debby and Bob sang a duet from the movie, "The Rose," and then the stage lights were dimmed and Caruso's returned to beging just another Italian restaurant in another shopping center.
With the singers offstage, Caruso's tries hard to overcome its shopping-center setting but doesn't quite succeed: The wall paneling, booths and red tablecloths over black tableclotths are somehow too modern and neat to be charming. There are, however, wonderful, almost life-sized, black-and-white photographs of Enrico Caruso, the great opera star, in the costumes of his most famous roles.
What makes an evening at Caruso's unusual and festive, though, are the Debbys and Bobs and other singers who, every night of the week, take turns belting out tunes from Broadway shows and operas. The music is light and lively enough for kids to enjoy and is a welcome break from the usual "How did things go in school today" family conversations.
The singers' voices the night we were there were remarkably strong and clear, and their choices of music, delightful. Our kids especially enjoyed Bob's renditions of songs from the '50s; my husband and I thought he was boffo with an aria from "Barber of Seville."
The good music took our minds off the food, which, unfortunately, was not nearly as good. The menu featured very grandsounding pastas, veal and seafood dishes at very grand prices: pastas for $6 to $9; fish and meat entrees for $9 to $15. Fortunately, children under 10 years of age can have a lasagna, spaghetti and meatball or hamburger dinner for $3.25. The dinner consists of a main course, glass of soda and vanilla ice cream. Our waitress also assured us that pasta and other orders could be split.
Caruso's also was very accommodating about coming up with a meatless, fishless dish, for my son who had, the week before, decided to become a vegetarian. In fact, the service and style of Caruso's was so gracious -- the waitresses and maitre d' tried so hard to please -- that it almost made us forget that the fettucini alfredo, $6.95, arrived lukewarm and lacked punch and that the meat in the stuffed canneloni, $7.95, while well-seasoned, had been too finely ground.
All was not gloom and doom. My husband's linguine pescatora, $11.95, was bursting with mussels and shrimp and clams. After he had the waitress take it back for a reheating, the dish was fine.
Instead of an entree, I ordered two appetizers, which our waitress very kindly served with the other entrees. Since all main courses come with a house salad, she threw one in for good measure, without charging us extra. The baked, stuffed clams, $3.95, were a little heavy on the breading but good; the appetizer-size eggplant parmesan, $3.25, was big enough to be an entree. It was also delicious.
The salads with house derssing were boring bowls of iceberg lettuce with a dollop of a thick dressing that relied heavily on mayonnaise. More to our liking was a side order of garlic bread, 95 cents, which was crisp on top, piping hot and well seasoned.
By the time our food arrived -- Caruso's kitchen does not work fast -- Bob and Debby were back with more, and Rich, at the piano, played a solo or two.
We had such a good time tapping our toes to the upbeat songs, clinking our glasses while Bob belted out "Drink, Drink, Let the Toasts Start," that we'd go back to Caruso's again.
The tap for our family of four came to $39.50 for food, soft drinks, wine and tax.