Atmosphere: Pink-and-beige elegance. Comfortable.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; same hours on Friday, except open until 10:30 p.m.; 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday; 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.
Price range: $5.75 to $11.95.
Credit cards: Visa and Mastercard.
Reservations: A good idea on weekends.
Special features: Street parking only; accessible to wheelchairs; no boosters or highchairs.
From time to time we all need a touch of elegance. An evening out in a lovely, comfortable restaurant is a treat the family can appreciate in these times of inflation.
Buon Giorno Ristorante, an old standby among Bethesda neighborhood restaurants, offers such an escape. A longtime fixture on Norfolk Avenue, Buon Giorno, to the delight of its regular patrons, was reclaimed by its original owners about four months ago after it had changed hands for a short time.
The double dining rooms are like a breath of spring on a cold winter's night. Large elegant chandeliers throw soft light on beige walls and impressionistic pastel art. Upholstered Italian provincial chairs surround tables covered with pale pink cloths and adorned with fresh pink lilies. The kitchen is shielded by frosted glass etched in flowers.
The maitre d' looks like he came right out of central casting: a gentleman with elegant white hair wearing a tuxedo. Service matches the ambience. Although you wouldn't want to bring very small children to a restaurant like Buon Giorno, the children in the dining room when we visited were treated with respect and even indulgence. There are no children's dinners, but pasta orders can be split.
Buon Giorno's menu will surprise children who think of spaghetti and tomato sauce when they think of Italian food. The first question from our 11-year-old: "Where's the spaghetti?" From her twin sister: "Where's the lasagne?" Nowhere among the 10 pasta dishes was there spaghetti. On the other hand, the girls had a choice of several linguine and tortellini dishes, risotto, homemade pappardelle, agnelotti and fettuccine. We couldn't convince them of the virtues of clam sauce, either white or red, but they finally decided to split an order of fettuccine alla crema ($6.25).
Our older daughter ordered tortellini in red sauce ($6.25) and I asked for linguine pescatora--pasta with calamari and shrimp ($6.75). My husband ordered sauteed trout ($8.95). Since salads come a' la carte, we decided not to indulge.
The busboy appeared within a couple of minutes with warm crusty Italian rolls and our drinks. Each entree had its own special merits. The fettuccine and tortellini were cooked al dente and each of their sauces was appetizing; the fettuccine was creamy and rich and the tortellini was complemented rather than overwhelmed by its pureed tomato sauce. Ingredients were fresh and seasonings subtle.
The platter of trout filets, sauteed with garlic, parsley and lemon sauce, was accompanied by roasted red peppers and properly cooked Italian green beans. It was a pretty and tasty dish, although we prefer our fish a bit less cooked.
My only complaint with my linguine, calamari and shrimp dish was that there was just one lone shrimp in it that included the tail of its shell. Shell is too easily overlooked and bitten into when everything is napped with red sauce. Otherwise, the dish was fine: calamari abundant, sauce sufficient, taste delicious.
An elegant dinner without salad is conceivable, but without dessert? Unthinkable. We ordered a cappuccino ($1.50), a canoli ($2.25), crema al caramello ($2) and a house specialty, Coppa Buon Giorno ($2.50). The canoli was crisp, freshly filled and sweet without being saccharine. The crema was pronounced by my husband, our creme caramel expert, to be exceptionally good. But it was the house specialty that was truly good. It was a delicately flavored, ice cold coffee mousse, a perfect finish to a meal of pasta--or probably anything else on the menu--sweet, light and cold.
Since Buon Giorno includes no extras with its selections, it would be easy to spend more than we did, but by ordering carefully our family of five had good food, fine service and lovely ambience for $50.80, tax and tip included.