La Fontana Tycon II Building, 8300 Old Courthouse Rd., Tysons Corner 847-6660 Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday. Dinner Prices: Appetizers and soups $3.50 to $7.50. Entrees $8.25 to $18.95. Cards: American Express, Visa, Diners Club, MasterCard. No nonsmoking area.
La Fontana reminds me of one of those intimate, sophisticated restaurants tucked away on New York's Upper East Side.
But here, "tucked away" also means not easily visible from the street and, on more than one occasion, according to La Fontana's owner, frustrated first-time patrons have called from a nearby pay phone after fruitlessly cruising back and forth on Old Courthouse Road. Not only is the restaurant in the back of a high-rise office building, but also, because of zoning restrictions, the restaurant's sign is virtually impossible to see from the road.
La Fontana is well worth searching out. Although the cuisine is familiar Northern Italian, the dishes shine with fresh, high-quality ingredients and show care in preparation. The service is polished and professional. With entrees mostly in the $11 to $13 range, the value is exceptional.
The quietly elegant, L-shaped dining room comfortably accommodates 26 tables. There is a separate lounge and bar. Along one long wall, white sculpted wallpaper is accented by decorative, hand-painted ceramic fountains. On the other side, floor-to-ceiling open weave draperies cover an expanse of windows overlooking a patio with flower boxes and tables for dining al fresco. The focal point of the dining room is a white lacquer grand piano played on Friday and Saturday nights.
Although I found the food to be consistently good, my main criticism is that at times, the kitchen's gentle seasoning was too timid. For example, I enjoyed the rich appetizer of mixed seafood and vegetables spooned into a buttery puff pastry nest, but more thyme or tarragon in the lobster sauce would have made it even better.
On the other hand, the touch of nutmeg was just right in the bechamel sauce atop the delicate, homemade crepes stuffed with ground veal and spinach. Splitting an order makes a fine appetizer for two as does an order of the homemade potato dumplings (gnocchi), which are tender with a nicely balanced pesto sauce.
Either of the regular soups is pleasing. One, a faintly peppery minestrone, is thick with fresh vegetables perfectly cooked al dente. In the other, stracciatella alla romana, fresh spinach and fluffy egg-drop islands float in a flavorful chicken broth base. Although not distinctive, a special of broccoli soup in a clear broth brightened by chunks of tomato was enjoyable.
The salads were lovely, especially the mixed salad with a foundation of leaf lettuce and samplings of radicchio, avocado, white asparagus, tomato wedges and artichoke and palm hearts bathed by a mustard vinaigrette. There is also an exemplary Caesar salad.
One of my favorite entrees was the sauteed sea scallops, silky and sweet, in a white wine sauce. Scampi provinciale sauteed in garlic and herbs was also good, but not as succulent.
Along with the scallops, I'd place the veal dishes high on my list of choices. Slices of first-rate scaloppine in both the veal Oscar and Monte Bianco are bathed in an intensely flavored demi-glace sauce, garnished either by crab meat and white asparagus or artichokes, and then blanketed by provolone cheese and velvety butter sauces.
There are a few non-Italian offerings such as Cajun-spiced seafood specials, and steaks such as a nicely executed New York strip with mushrooms.
Any of the desserts I sampled -- a wonderful cannoli, a light, pastiera cake studded with candied fruit, and a delicate rum cake -- would make a satisfying finish followed by a demitasse of espresso.
The wine list is a bit pedestrian, with an emphasis on moderately priced Italian selections.
La Fontana is one of the better new restaurants in Northern Virginia. The only serious hitch I encountered was getting there. So when you call for a reservation, don't forget to write down directions.