Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Dinner for two with appetizers, desserts and drinks costs about $15-$20. Cards: Visa and Mastercard
The Italian Store, in the Seven Corners Shopping Center, doesn't really qualify as a restaurant and doesn't try to pass itself off as one. It's a "gourmet" carryout: It has two long stainless steel deli cases filled with pasta salads, sausages and cheeses; coolers of cooked main dishes; shelves of pretty biscuit tins and chocolates, and olive oils and Italian wines. But because there are seven small tables here, where you can eat and sip Chianti and watch mall life go by, we consider the Italian Store fair game for a review.
And we enjoy it. We wouldn't urge you to go out of your way to buy dinner here, but if you're shopping in the mall or in the Seven Corners area, the Italian Store is an inexpensive and pleasant place to eat. (The parent store is at 3123 Lee Hwy. in Arlington, but it has no tables.)
We stopped by during a recent mall expedition, eight of us: We pushed a few tables together, bought a couple of fine Italian wines from the small but good selection (whether you drink the bottle here or take it home, you pay only the shelf price), got a stack of clear plastic wine glasses from the carryout counter, and started browsing for our dinner in the carryout cases. We ordered a handful of cold salads (by the pound) for appetizers. They tend to be underseasoned, but they're made with prime ingredients and the vegetables are perfectly cooked -- such as crisp new potatoes with herbed mayonnaise; hearts of palm vinaigrette with green peppers and tomatoes; bright green broccoli flowerets and white ringlets of squid, and simple, nicely chewy tortellinis.
Now for the entrees. There's a menu, but it's easier just to check the glass cooler and then carry your selections to the microwave. Most of the dishes are quite good, although not outstanding -- such as al dente ravioli stuffed with sausage, or manicotti tubes stuffed with firm-textured ricotta; a surprisingly good chicken cacciatore, three big tender pieces with fat green peppers and onions in a winey sauce, and a linguine with garlicky white clam sauce. Like the salads, though, the main dishes need more oomph; they're all fresh and homemade-tasting, not at all canned, but we wanted to dash into the kitchen and shake more salt and bold black pepper and garlic into the saucepans.
While you're building strength to make one more shopping foray into the mall, order a creamy and crispy cannoli, a fat slice of cinnamony apple pie or a bittersweet chocolate mousse cake. A pot of good, serve-your-own coffee is always brewing (you also can buy a variety of coffee beans). End the meal with a quarter pound of Belgian chocolates. You could carry all this home, of course, and eat dinner flopped on your couch. But we sort of like sitting mallside -- sometimes. It's not a sidewalk cafe, exactly, but it can be fun watching mall life stroll by.