Il Buon Gusto

6681 S. Backlick Rd.



Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Mondays.

Prices: Lunch, appetizers $2.95 to $4.25; pastas and entrees $6.25 to $10.95. Dinner, soups and appetizers $2.95 to $7.95; pastas and entrees $7.95 to $14.95.

Cards: All major credit cards accepted.

Non-smoking area available.

Now that fresh herbs and pasta are commonplace in grocery stores, we expect at least as much from our neighborhood Italian restaurants. And Il Buon Gusto ("eel bone goose-toe") doesn't disappoint.

The interior, in subdued beiges and browns, is dimly lit and simply furnished with candle-like wall sconces, a pair of contemporary glass chandeliers, and two dozen tables uncovered to show off handsome inlaid wood. The overall effect is soothing in contrast to the congestion outside in an area thick with cars and shopping strips.

A basket of fresh, finely textured Italian bread arrives early, making a pleasant accompaniment to the appealing appetizers, such as fried mozzarella squares stuffed with a layer of Gorgonzola, and the clams baked with a tasty topping of spinach, prosciutto and Parmesan cheese.

As good as those appetizers are, however, pasta is the standout among the exceptionally good Northern Italian choices. Indeed, this is one of the best moderately priced Italian resturants that I have visted recently in Northern Virginia.

Wide, flat pappardelle noodles, for example, were wonderful with a gossamer cream sauce and bits of smoked salmon ($9.50). The kitchen maintained its deft touch with the weekend special of spaghetti intensely flavored with pesto.

All of the noodles, including the spaghetti, I was told, are made in-house. So too are the sweet and hot sausages ($11.95), tossed in a well-balanced blend of tomatoes, olive oil, and green and red peppers.

Almost as good is the generous, perfectly cooked fillet of red snapper adorned with scallops, shrimp and squid in a light tomato-white wine sauce ($14.95).

Chicken breast rolls filled with herbs and mushrooms ($10.95) make an attractive presentation as well as a delicious main course.

Two side dishes come with each entree: a finely breaded mashed potato croquette and garlicky cooked escarole.

The virtually all-Italian wine list is moderately priced and Italian beer is also available.

As for dessert, treat yourself to one of the best versions of tiramisu in recent memory -- a confection of ladyfingers, the rich pudding zabaglione, a splash of both coffee liqueur and brandy, all topped off with whipped cream. Also worth ordering is the creamy cannoli in a brittle, fried pastry shell.