Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday; closed Sunday.
Atmosphere: Casual and friendly.
Price range: Pasta from $2.50 to $5.95; chicken and veal dishes $5.50 to $7; pizzas from $4.95.
Reservations: Not taken.
Credit cards: Not accepted, but personal checks are.
Special facilities: Carryout; a few parking spaces in front, a small lot in back; accessible to the handicapped but with one step up at entrance to restaurant; booster seats but no highchairs.
Our family always looks forward to trying local Italian restaurants. A place not too far from home that serves great pizza or decent spaghetti is worth its weight in pasta.
Roccaraso Ristorante is a new addition to McLean. It has an ambitious menu and shows promise, but has some wrinkles that need to be ironed out.
One problem is the service. Either the waitresses are inexperienced or the kitchen has not quite hit its stride, or perhaps a little bit of both. When our family dined there one recent Saturday evening, the waitress never seemed to be available when she was needed, and when we asked about one dish -- chicken arrabiata -- she didn't know what it was, although she did offer to find out.
We also had an unreasonably long wait for espresso and dessert, and when the bill eventually arrived, we found we had been charged twice for one item. The waitress graciouly corrected the bill once we pointed out the error.
What was lacking in efficiency, however, was made up in friendliness. Indeed, the restaurant management seems to be striving for, and achieving, a warm, neighborly touch.
The decor in this small storefront restaurant is cozy and intimate. Most tables are for two and have to be pushed together for larger parties, like our family of four. The lighting is subdued, coming from attractive metal lanterns hanging from the ceiling. The tablecloths are -- you guessed it -- red-and-white checked, and maps of Italy adorn the walls.
The menu covers more ground than most suburban Italian restaurants we have visited. In addition to the usual spaghetti, chicken and veal, there is tortellini, spaghetti with aglio and olio (oil and garlic sauce), and gnocchi (dumplings). There is no children's menu, but children's portions are available on request.
Pasta entrees come with Italian bread, while meat entrees come with bread and an order of spaghetti. Salads and garlic bread are a la carte. We started with a mixed salad ($1), a combination of garden vegetables and iceberg and romaine lettuce. The creamy, garlicky dressing was delicious, but was somewhat watery, as if it had been diluted by the ice keeping the greens fresh. We also ordered garlic bread ($1), which was warm and crunchy.
The lasagna ($5.50) could have been a first-rate dish but for its sauce. The noodles were just right, al dente and subtly seasoned, then nicely layered with ground meat, starting with the meat on the bottom. A tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese covered the wedge of the noodles and meat. The sauce was rich and sweet, but too thick, and tasted as if it had been cooked too long.
Veal scallopini ($6.50) was breaded and covered with mushrooms. The veal was tender and well flavored, but a little soggy.
The children both ordered spaghetti. Our 11-year-old had a regular portion with meat sauce ($5.85), and her younger sister, the child's portion with tomato sauce ($2). Again, the pasta was cooked al dente, but the sauce could best be described as paste.
Desserts scored well. The cannoli ($1.25) was excellent -- a tube of light, fresh pastry oozing with a fluffy ricotta filling dotted with chocolate chips. As for the cheesecake (95 cents), it was just right -- tall, dense and not too sweet.
Dinner for the four of us came to $28.08, including tax.
On another visit we tried pizza ($6 for a large), which was quite good. It had a fairly thick, rather chewy crust and a thin layer of tomato sauce covered by lots of cheese.