Sorrento

6691 Backlick Rd., Springfield

644-4044

Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Lunch soups and appetizers from $2 to $3.50; sandwiches and entrees $4.25 to $7.95. Dinner soups and appetizers $2 to $4.95; pastas and entrees $5.50 to $12.50.

Cards: All major credit cards.

No nonsmoking section.

If only our friendly, low-key waiter had hummed something Italian.

After three visits I yearned for something more spirited than the Muzak wafting through the tasteful but bland interior.

After all, this is an Italian restaurant, not a motel coffee shop.

Although you don't get a personalized rendition of "O Sole Mio," you do get a traditional menu featuring hefty portions and moderate prices with some standouts along the way.

The pastas, homemade except for the spaghetti, are more often than not successes.

My favorite was the al dente spaghetti Sorrento coupled with lengths of a finely ground, mild pork sausage tossed in a lively sauce of tomatoes, peppers and onions. However, the meat sauce on the side dishes of spaghetti that accompany the entrees is just so-so.

The cream sauces tend to be rich, so it might be wise to divide the bounty into appetizer portions among fellow diners. The paglia e fieno, for example, was perfect shared this way. The dish is a tangle of fresh spinach and plain noodles flavored with slivers of ham and mushrooms bathed with enough cream to qualify as a soup. Nearly as good was the cheesy cream sauce on the crepe-like manicotti fiorentina with a richness rating right up there with the most decadent of desserts.

Other good openers include a flavorful, hearty minestrone or the generous Caesar salad for two. The antipasto platter, built on a base of lettuce, can double as a salad drizzled with a good olive oil dressing and decorated with tasty shaved prosciutto as well as a small sampling of other cold cuts and provolone.

From the entrees, I enjoyed the crisp-edged rounds of eggplant parmigiana fried to a custardy consistency and topped with a peppy tomato sauce, although an overly generous blanket of melted cheese threatened to smother the other flavors.

Veal dishes were mixed -- a robust tomato sauce nicely complemented the fork-tender veal shanks in a fairly good ossobuco, but in the scallopine sorrentina, the toughness of the veal detracted from the otherwise pleasing combination of cheese, ham and a full-bodied Marsala wine sauce. A similar dish with chicken was quite tender, but marred by a heavy egg batter.

A small, whole flounder was delicious boned and stuffed with a savory layer of finely shredded, seasoned crab meat. The calamari in a marinara sauce, on the other hand, didn't taste as fresh.

For dessert don't miss the terrific cannoli freshly filled with a smooth vanilla custard dotted with chocolate chips and candied fruit. There is also an acceptable rum cake as well as the familiar spumoni, tartuffo and cheesecake.

At the four-month mark, this neighborhood Italian restaurant already hits a number of right chords. Nonetheless, Sorrento could enhance its appeal with a little more consistency in the kitchen, and with some enchanting arias on the tape deck.