Atmosphere: Noisy, bustling, friendly, cozy.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Price range: Moderate. Appetizers (large portions), $3 to $4. Entrees:
$5 to $9, occasionally higher.
Reservations: Only accepted for parties of six or more.
Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard and VISA.
Special facilities: Plenty of parking on side. Steps would prevent wheelchair entry. Boosters for children, who are welcome.
Had the Amalfi been spoiled by its phenomenal success? We pursued that question on a recent visit to this informal family restaurant, which is barely noticeable in a nondescript district of industrial warehouse and fast-food establishments, yet has a develoted following.
When the Amalfi opened several years ago, it was decorated with Chinese lanterns and a dragon or two that were remnants of a restaurant that had occupied the same building. No traces now of that ragtag beginning. The decor is simple and unpretentious -- a few reproductions of Italian scenes and some fishing mementos to remind us of the original Amalfi, an ancient maritime port on the southern Italian coast.
Long lines form on wekends now, ready to fill the house when the doors swing open at 5 p.m. The tables are more closely crowded than ever. Prices are higher but not out of line, and portions are still larger than at many posh downtown restaurants.
Amalfi specializes in dishes that reprsent southern Italian cooking at its pungent best. Lots of coarsely chopped fresh garlic, generous amounts of chopped fresh parsley and aromatic basil and oregano, red pepper and olive oil. cHigh quality imported tomatoes are used for red sauces, fruity white wine for white sauces.
Appetizers tend to be oily, but plate after plate of spiedini (a deep-fried bread-cheese-anchovy concoction) left the kitchen. Overflowing platters of fried zucchini are a good first course. So is the mussel soup. We counted nearly two dozen mussels in the $4.50 dish.
A tight budget might call for the $3.50 antipasto: prosciutto, salami, tuna, olives, vegetables, eggs, tomatores and more. Plenty for two.
As for the main courses, the day's specials clipped to the menu are apt to be good, but ask your waiter for prices, which are not listed and are higher ($9 range) than the stock menu items ($5 to $7 range).
In keeping with its maritime namesake, the Amalfi's seafood dishes are the most outstanding. Our favorie is the seafood platter with linguine. For a reasonable $7.25, you get a beautiful round cooking pot laden with mussels, clams, shrimp, squid, king crab claws and almost too much linguine (in a choice of red or white sauce) to eat.
One of the really special productions at the Amalfi is the lobster soup, usually listed as a special. The price is high, $16, but you get a one-pound lobster split in half in a wine and tomato sauce soup, surrounded by mussels and clams and medallions of crisp, garlicky Italian bread.
The least successful seafood dish is shrimp parmigiana ($9.75). Deep fried shrimp are wrapped in mozzarella and baked in tomato sauce. The ingredients don't seem to do much except make the shrimp soggy.
The saltimbocca (veal, prosciutto, cheese and wine), is an excellent special. So is the crisp roasted duck offered occasionally. Veal is good quality, pale and fresh, and nicely done.
Pizzas, both red and white, are more successful than pastas at the Amalfi. The white pizza, with fresh garlic, herbs and olive oil, is a fine first course or accompaniment to dinner. The regular pizza is excellent, made with Amalfi trademarks of plentiful tomatoes (slices not sauce), lots of chopped garlic and herbs and a blanket of cheese. Cost: A moderate $6 for a large pizza. We ordered one to take home with us, and our waiter obligingly had the kitchen cook it only half through so it would not be overdone when we reheated it.
For dessert, the best choice is cannoli, with a not-too-sweet ricotta filling and plenty of chopped fruit and chocolate pieces.
There are plenty of attentive waiters, each in his red Amalfi T-shirt.
The Amalfi has been wise enough to stay small, simple and authentic. It's been spurred, not spoiled, by success.