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MC Slim JB | Jul 11, 2003 01:27 PM

The host and many of the staffers wandering about the dining room look and sound like Sopranos extras, right down to their high-waisted pants. The bartender is mightily confused when I order a Punt e Mes (she's never heard of it, in an Italian restaurant?), but does comprehend a Campari and soda. The dining room is nearly full, but we're seated quickly within minutes of walking in (a prior call for a reservation was greeted by an answering machine: very bad.)

Our waiter has an Italian accent and good training. We spy a strange-named Vino Nobile de Montepulciano (San Viurce?!) on the wine list, and order it. The odd name is a misprint: it's actually a Santa Someone (Anna? Christina?) VNDM, and very nice, not too steep a markup. Respectable, foccacia-heavy bread basket and good EVOO.

We share a plate of linguine arrabbiatta, good but not extraordinary, lacking real dried-chilli fire. Two secondi: a vitello al limon and a vitello costato. The first is competent but uninspired, the second an overdone chop (ordered medium-rare, the chef's alleged preference, it arrives well-done) in a lovely mushroom(and perhaps sherry?) sauce. Zucchini stuffed with a minced sausage is a very good side to both.

Gradually we stop looking at the crowd and check out the decor, and guess that it was done by an aspiring designer who is a young relative of the owners. It's an absurd mishmash of wildly clashing styles: a bit of Tuscan textured orange wall here, a bit of Deco trim there, an ultramodern backlit frosted-glass wall behind us, a cheesey fake-stone-wall partition there, polished granite tables and bartop, weird gothic accents throughout. The more we look, the funnier it gets: about 500 years of divergent design styles thrown in a blender with the top left off.

The place is booming, everyone's having a good time, it's loud amid the close-set tables, and we get warm, hospitable service. But the level of imagination and skill of execution in the food is a distinct let-down (though the prices seem about average, probably $70 inclusive before wine). I don't expect we'll bother going back. We'll be telling stories about that decor for a while, though.

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