5765-C Burke Center Parkway, Burke 425-1889 Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner, 4:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday. Prices: Lunch $3.95 to $7.95; dinner appetizers and pastas $2.50 to $8.95; entrees $7.95 to $16.95. Cards: American Express, Visa, MasterCard. Nonsmoking section available.
Pino's is the kind of place you want to like, but it's not always easy.
Located in a shopping strip anchored by a Hechinger's, the dining room features light wood, subdued lighting, and beige walls and table covers that create a warm and relaxed atmosphere. Adding a bright touch of color is a mirrored border above the chair rail painted with bunches of grapes, twisting vines and wine bottles.
The menu is mainly Italian, although french onion soup has a permanent spot among the appetizers, and other continental dishes, such as beef Wellington, show up on weekends. Although the kitchen does have its successful moments, it dishes out disappointments as well.
A couple of the stronger efforts include a hearty, satisfying bowl of lentil soup ($2.50) offered one evening, or a menu regular, the tender calamari Luciano ($9.95) in a lemony sauce. Another successful special, the flounder fantasia ($14.95), was a good-sized fillet, pan-fried to seal in the juices and bathed in a light white wine sauce with artichokes and mushrooms.
An Italian version of chicken cordon bleu was acceptable, but the meager shavings of prosciutto added little flavor.
All entrees include a dinner salad of iceberg and romaine and a choice of pasta or vegetable for a side dish. Ask to have the salad dressing served on the side, because the application tends to be heavy-handed.
The crusty, chewy French bread is good for mopping up the better sauces, such as the delicate marsala sauce over a decent veal scallopine with fresh mushrooms. On the other hand, the lemony concoction with the chicken scarpariello was unpleasantly sharp, intensified by the accompanying briny black and green olives.
The richly sauced fettuccine Alfredo is delicious, but the cheese-filled manicotti gets a mixed review: The filling is delightfully light, and the wrapper is heavy and gummy.
Generally the menu makes for familiar reading, but there's one provision that may be a first in the annals of Italian restaurants: the $1 surcharge if you want your pasta cooked al dente. To me that's like charging extra to have your steak cooked medium rare, but the owner/chef Giuseppe (Pino) Ricciardi claims that most of his Burke customers prefer their pasta well-done.
When I special-ordered the fettuccine and a side dish of spaghetti, not only was there an extraordinary delay before either arrived but the fettuccine had just barely made it to the al dente stage while the spaghetti was still stiff and sitting in an excess of garlicky oil. At the end of the meal when I checked the bill, the extra charge had not been added. Aha, I thought, the management has tried to compensate us for the long delay. But no, when the total was rung up, the $2 charge was inserted with no apology.
Another incident involved the scampi appetizer ($4.95) that our waitress assured us contained three jumbo shrimp, which, she also assured us, the kitchen would increase to four if the jumbos were, well, not jumbo. Only a strong magnifying glass, however, could have transformed our three flavorless specimens into the advertised size.
The antipasto plate ($3.50) was also a disappointment, more like a tossed salad garnished with token shavings of prosciutto, paper-thin slices of cheese, an anchovy, and several large pitted black olives.
The desserts are usually homemade, but the night I tried the airy black forest cake I was told it has been purchased elsewhere. The crisp cannoli shell was filled on the premises, but the cheese lacked richness and intensity.
The best of Pino's dishes are quite good, but it seems that just when you are about to give the kitchen a "bravo," it commits a boo-boo.