Atmosphere: Pleasant, unpretentious, informal.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Price range: Pizza from $4. Dinners $5.25 to $14; most dishes in $6 to $8 range.
Reservations: Not usually necessary.
Credit cards: American Express, Visa, Carte Blanche, Diner's Club, Mastercard.
Special facilities: Easy parking in shopping center lot; one curb to door, but restaurant is accessible to wheelchairs; boosters and high chairs available.
On Little River Turnpike, just beyond Landmark, is the Riviera Ristorante. It offers a very good version of southern Italian cooking in an ideal setting for families, and at reasonable prices.
The decor is simple and predictable: imitation, slate-topped tables, colored lanterns hanging from the ceiling, panelling and stucco on the walls. There is a flower and a lit candle on each table. Napkins are cloth, and the service is attentive.
In short, the Riviera seems to have a perfect ambience for families on a night out. Adults will feel as if they are in a real restaurant, but no one will have a heart attack if a child spills a coke.
It also is, happily, the sort of place where younger children can have pizza while their elders indulge in a real dinner. Or children under 10 may choose one of four different dinners for $2.95, which includes two cokes, "if Mom will allow." The regular menu items are extensive, including pasta, seafood and veal. The Riviera offers fresh pasta and makes its own cannoli. Pizza is homemade and baked in a brick oven.
A decent salad bar comes with dinner. Since it includes antipasto items like provolone, Genoa salami and marinated vegetables, you can avoid paying for an appetizer unless you feel you must try the fried ravioli or crostini caldi. We found the salad-antipasto bar offered enough olives, Italian peppers, greens, tomatoes, beans and parmesan-covered croutons to make a meal in themselves. Dressings are standard -- Italian, French, blue cheese -- but taste better than they usually do because Riviera makes its own.
We tried to sample as many dishes as possible, and the kitchen scored well in every category. Our 10-year-old's small meatball pizza was big enough for two kids her size, so we all got to try some. The rich cheese and meat topping was generously applied and quite good. Only the dough had been mishandled a bit: It was somewhat tough and fell apart in places. She ate it with a fork and was happy.
Our older daughter, who had trouble deciding what to order, finally settled on ravioli, $5.95, and was glad she did. The pasta was, as the menu promised, fresh and tender.
My husband ordered deep-fried calamari, $7.25, served with spaghetti. These were larger than the usual baby squid one sees in restaurant dishes and we thought at first they might be tough. They were perfect: lightly coated, tender, fried to a greaseless golden brown.
My veal parmigiana, $8.25, was everything I could have wanted -- lightly breaded and gently sauteed. The quality of meat, cheese and tomato sauce was fine. I also asked for spaghetti instead of a vegetable and was glad of it. Riviera tops its pasta with a rich, thick, sweet tomato sauce we all enjoyed.
Our waiter offered us cheesecake, spumoni, parfait or cannoli for dessert. We ordered one chocolate parfait, $1.50, and two cannoli, each $1.95.A parfait is a parfait is a parfait, but cannoli can be sweet perfection or soggy, stale and sour. This one was creamily delicious in a light and crisp shell.
And that accurately describes what we thought of the Riviera.
Our bill for four, tax and tip included, was $43.70.