1712 Connecticut Ave. NW 232-4768 Hours: Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 a.m. Prices: Lunch appetizers $3.25 to $4.75, sandwiches and entrees $3.25 to $5.25; dinner appetizers $1.95 to 4.75, sandwiches and entrees $3.75 to $12.95 (for a large pizza) Cards: Visa, MasterCard
Pizza & Pasta reminds us how comforting the basics -- say, a homey tomato sauce or a plate of manicotti -- can be. At a time when every new Italian eatery seems to be touting sun-dried tomatoes and imported cheese, Pizza & Pasta clings to conventional spaghetti-house standards. You might not find glitter, you might not partake of the most authentic fare, but neither will you regret the tab.
From the street, Pizza & Pasta looks pretty anonymous, save for the colorful antipasto bar, featuring a "kitchen sink" selection of appetizers, all strategically displayed in the broad front window. The interior, a sea of red tablecloths, flickering red candles and wine bottles posing as decor in the rear, is almost a cliche of Italian restaurants -- except for the pink walls, perhaps, which, with their embellishments, look more the work of a cake decorator than an interior designer. Nonetheless, such kitsch makes for much of the dining room's charm.
Its moderate prices account for the crowd, which on any given night includes lots of families and students and tourists. (So this is where they head after a day on the Mall.)
And the menu? If you set your sights on the antipasto bar, you're likely to be disappointed. Not that there's insufficient selection -- everything from potato salad to stuffed grape leaves is available. But it takes some picking and choosing to get to the good stuff, and the later the hour, the more tired the spread looks. Stray not from the pasta salads and the marinated vegetables. Skip the commercial tasting coleslaw and the soggy fried eggplant.
After sampling a basket of timid garlic bread and a plate of soggy baked clams, I concluded that appetizers in general are mediocre here, save for the minestrone, a respectable and filling bowl of mixed vegetables afloat in a mildly peppery broth.
Odds improve considerably among the hefty main dish offerings. Allow your waiter to make a dinner suggestion. Ours recommended pasta with clam sauce and it proved a good choice, the clams plentiful and fresh, buttery and pleasantly garlicky. The spaghetti here is thick strands of slippery, al dente noodles, served with a wash of robust tomato sauce. The pizza is its equal, yeasty in flavor and quite crisp. And you can't go wrong with the veal castellana, sheathed with a gooey armor of melted cheese and tomato sauce.
There's a dark side to Pizza & Pasta, and I'm not referring to the dimly lit dining room. It's called gnocchi -- potato dumplings -- and it's terrible. Heavy as golf balls with the texture of Play Doh, the gnocchi here is swamped in an otherwise respectable tomato sauce. As the unfortunate recipient of the dish said, "Say no to gnocchi." You can probably also decline the eggplant parmigiana, which was mushy and bitter when I tasted it.
Despite its quirks, there's a lot to like about this cozy Dupont Circle eatery. To appreciate Pizza & Pasta, keep it in mind as the type of place to seek out when the refrigerator is empty -- and your wallet is, too.Tom Sietsema is on the staff of The Washington Post Food section.