Port of Italy

6148 Franconia Rd.



Hours: Noon to 11 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday. Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m Monday through Saturday.

Prices: Lunch: salads, sandwiches and entrees $4.95-$8.95, Dinner: soups, salads and appetizers $2.25-$8.95, Pastas and entrees $8.95-$16.95 (mostly $9.95-$12.95).

Cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express.

Non-smoking area available.

Although standard southern Italian cooking is on display here, Port of Italy also provides a few appealing departures. Indeed, owner Giovanni Coratolo said, this two-month-old restaurant has more differences than similarity with his less ambitious neighborhood Italian eatery of the same name in Temple Hills.

New from the ground up, this free-standing, two-story building looks imposing and serious -- a boxy neoclassical structure with eye-catching maroon awnings atop long, narrow windows.

Once inside, you pass a glass-enclosed kitchen on the way to one of two handsomely decorated dining rooms, one featuring silhouettes of well-known Italian landmarks.

The dressy setting seems right for business luncheons yet not too formal for family dinners. A young, unaffected staff provides a casual touch. As for the food, the dishes range from good to very good. The emphasis is on seafood and pasta, made on the premises.

The misti piatti ($10.95), either as an entree or shared appetizer, is a sound strategic opener -- a sampler platter that includes a superb Italian sausage made in-house; cannelloni stuffed with a mild veal and ricotta mixture wrapped in a firm sheet of spinach pasta; and plump ravioli pillows with a delicate shrimp filling, all garnished with grilled red, green and yellow peppers. Ladled over all of this and some other dishes is a good, garlicky, herb-flecked tomato sauce.

The thick tomato sauce also shows up as a companion to the nicely steamed bowl of mussels ($4.95).

The portions range from large to enormous, but none seems more filling than the pasta with smoked salmon, shrimp and sun-dried tomatoes, slathered with a rich garlic cream ($12.95). I would divide this among two or three diners as an appetizer or first-course pasta.

A recent special, the homey, full-flavored beef noodle soup gets my vote over the so-so minestrone.

The assorted seafood salad ($8.95) topped with shrimp, scallops, mussels and squid is not a bad choice, although I would prefer a base of more interesting greens than the mound of iceberg lettuce. A nice accompaniment is the bruschetta ($1.50) loaded with chopped garlic. Among the entrees, I recommend the calves liver provocatively seasoned with a breading of pistachio and rosemary, then gently sauteed with strips of the meaty Italian bacon, pancetta, and a tangle of sweet, caramelized onions.

Simple but satisfying, the pollo siciliano ($11.95) features tender breast of chicken topped with prosciutto encased in a thin, translucent sheet of provolone.

Some familiar Italian offerings are bargain-priced at lunch, such as the successful rendition of eggplant parmigiana with crisp-edged eggplant patties and a judicious amount of melted cheese. Although the lasagna looked pretty stacked high on the plate above a pool of tomato sauce, the flavor was pedestrian. Another dish that looked a little better than it tasted was the trio of poached tuna, salmon and flounder with pesto/garlic pasta. Two of the three were slightly overcooked and the pesto was too assertive.

There are many fine desserts; in order of preference, they are the rum cake with chocolate and vanilla pudding between layers of almond sponge cake; a firm cheesecake with a side of strawberry puree; creamy cannoli; and a wedge of multicolored spumoni.