722 King St., Alexandria 548-0088 Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner, 6 to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday. Prices: Lunch, appetizers and soups $3.25 to $5.75, pasta and entrees $7.95 to $10.95; dinner, pasta and entrees, $9.95 to $16.50. Cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express. No nonsmoking area. Reservations suggested.
Owner Lucio Bergamin still works the floor as though he has just opened shop, exhibiting the kind of constant vigilance that has helped Geranio survive and prosper for 11 years in restaurant-packed Old Town.
The table linens and waiters with starched shirts add a touch of formality to the country charm created by ladder-back chairs, white brick walls adorned with rustic baskets and colorful paintings, and bouquets of fresh flowers that brighten each table. The glowing fireplace near the door is a welcome sight on chilly fall nights.
The familiar Northern Italian food is not inexpensive, but the quality is usually high, even outstanding in some cases.
My favorites on recent vists were two veal selections and a pasta, which was a heavenly special of angel hair served with shredded crab meat and rings of calamari in a rich cream sauce ($12.25). Another terrific special was the veal chop bathed in a Marsala sauce, infused with the aroma of fresh rosemary ($16.50). A menu regular, scallopine alla Lucio ($14.95), boasts a lively sauce of sweet red peppers and mushrooms.
Also good, but not as engaging, is the veal piccata in a buttery lemon sauce ($14.95) and the papery thin tubes of rigatoni in a light tomato sauce with bits of black olives and a hint of crushed red pepper flakes ($9.95).
The only dish that missed badly was an overcooked sea bass that tasted old. A thin tuna steak special was better, but the kitchen could have gone easy on the salty capers, which tended to overwhelm the fish.
A seafood salad appetizer -- a healthy portion of scallops, mussels, shrimp and octopus -- was overmarinated. A better opener was the fried homemade mozzarella, two crisp rectangles in a butter sauce topped with an anchovy fillet.
The soups are worth trying: zuppa ki spinaci, the fluffy egg and fresh spinach soup with a peppery broth, or the pasta e fagioli, the white bean and pasta soup to which I would have added a bit more seasoning. Salads such as the house salad of romaine and the spinach with mushrooms are fresh and ample.
For dessert, try the excellent cannoli or the light custard flavored with Galiano and Cointreau. The black forest cake, on the other hand, was airy. Fresh raspberries also are usually available.
The Italian wine list is modest in both length and price, and half bottles are in stock.
The teamwork of the veteran service staff keeps the show rolling even with a full house. Indeed, on a busy weekend night the staff graciously handled a special request from a dinner companion on a restricted diet. A relatively small matter to be sure, but another indication of the generally high level of competence and quality that makes Geranio a dependable, satisfying choice.