Taste of Old Italy in a New Spot
At first glance: When Bethesda favorite Olazzo decided to expand to Silver Spring, it opted to restore one of downtown's remaining rowhouses, last occupied by Half Moon Barbecue, rather than file into one of the new developments. Seven months' worth of elbow grease later, the corrugated iron bar has been replaced with marble and the Formica tabletops with wood. Walls have been given a coat of sponged stucco. A few high, square windows, plastic grapevines and wine barrels line the heights. Although you're upstairs, the illusion is of being in a wine cellar. Roughly chisled beams stretch overhead. There's even a "fireplace" upstairs and in the bar -- actually an elevated, flat-screen TV that plays a video of a fire.
On the menu: The Pietrobono brothers, owners of the original Olazzo in Bethesda, have not messed with success; the menus are identical. The choices are fairly limited and traditional rather than creative, but they are carefully executed, not overly heavy, and judiciously seasoned. Entrees come with a sizable green salad; most pastas and the house salad can be customized with shrimp, chicken, meatball or sausage.
Only at lunch is there a "low-carb" selection of dishes served with sauteed vegetables instead of pasta.
At your service: The staff is friendly in a way that assumes newcomers are bound to become regulars; the downside is that they can become distracted conversing with other customers. Usually, a server is quick to bring crusty, warm bread to the table and to pour olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping, but one night the bread never appeared (although the server kept a close eye on cocktail glasses), and on another, the dipping dish went unrefilled. On the other hand, dishes of ground Parmesan are left on the table.
Washingtonian Cheap Eats
This 46-seat dining room, run by brothers Roberto and Ricardo Pietrobono, recalls the haunts that dot many a Brooklyn street corner. But despite the weathered family photos on the wall, it’s not totally Old World: What looks like a roaring hearth is actually a flat-screen TV projecting images of blazing logs.
The red-sauce style of cooking can tend toward the gooey, but there’s nothing sloppy about chef Miguel Linares’s small repertoire. The green-leaf salads that come gratis arrive with good vinaigrette and a dusting of Parmesan. Meals start with crusty country bread with olive oil and balsamic for dipping. Save it—you’ll want to sop up all the robust marinara smothering the lasagna and eggplant Parmesan or the addictive tomato-cream sauce on the chicken cardinale and shrimp rosé.
If everyone at your table orders a traditional appetizer plus entrée, the waitress might warn, “That’s a lot of food.” She’s right: A starter plate of buttery garlic bread draped in melted mozzarella is best for passing around the table, and a foot-tall martini glass of fried calamari could feed a family of four.