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Therapeutic Dining for One of Those Days

Antonio's stands the tests of taste and time

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The day had been nonstop since 7:30 a.m. I'd left work early in hopes of returning home by 4, leaving myself just under an hour for a shower and a cup of coffee before heading out for the evening.

But it turned into one of those days where the minutes roll into hours, the hours blend into each other, and before you know it, the day has flown by and it's almost 5. You've missed lunch, a caffeine break and any precious moments to just sit still. Nothing has gone as planned, you've endured an excruciatingly long meeting, only to repeat the topics visited in last week's excruciatingly long meeting.

You know the day.

By the time you arrive home, your mood is foul, your belly is empty and your blood sugar low. You need food, relaxation and a drink. That brings us to Antonio's Italiano Ristorante.

Italian cooking is the ultimate in comfort food, and locally, Antonio's consistently serves good food in a relaxed, warm atmosphere. The service is prompt but not intrusive and the wine list is plentiful.

On the night in question, I called up my friend Cris, was at her house by 6 and at Antonio's, seated at a comfy two-top and ordering wine by 6:20. Antonio's wine list is extensive, with three of my favorite reds including Guenoc Lake Co. Cabernet Sauvignon. It comes by the half bottle; perfect for two people and is very reasonably priced.

Our waiter was stealthy and efficient at his task throughout the entire meal, beginning with the drinks. He brought out water, opened the wine, dropped a basket of bread at the table, and took the appetizer order -- toasted spicy ravioli ($5.75).

These little toasted raviolis, with an accompanying marinara sauce, sweet with a nice tangy flavor, are merely okay. The cheese filling has a good, peppery spiciness, but they remind me of Pizza Pockets, the preferred frozen fast food of my childhood. In the future, I'll stick with my two favorites: grilled portobello mushrooms, sauted with basil ($5.95) or the Antipasto plate ($7.50), which includes hard salami, pepperoni, prosciutto, mozzarella, a variety of marinated veggies, olives and anchovies.

Thanks to the wine, the food, our waiter's sense of humor and unobtrusive attentiveness, and the fact that my friend's day was worse than mine, my mood was dramatically improving. I strayed from my usual pasta-and-tomato-based entrees of Manicotti ($11.95) and Eggplant Napolitan ($10.95, aka Eggplant Parmigiano), and the Gnocchi with Pesto ($12.95). I went for the Chicken Spinachi con Funghi ($14.75) -- chicken sauted in Madeira wine, topped with mushrooms, spinach and Asiago cheese. If you like any of those three, especially the Asiago, you'll love this dish, served with a side dish of steaming pasta.

My friend ordered one of the evening's specials, The Sampler ($15.95). The plate featured Grilled Pork Tenderloin with a mushroom-leek sauce, Jumbo Stuffed Shells with marinara and mozzarella, and Crab Stuffed Mushrooms with garlic lemon butter.

Of the three, we both liked the pork tenderloin the best, and the stuffed shells were a close second. Living up to its name, the pork was tender, easily cut with a fork. The mushroom-leek sauce was subtle but flavorful. The jumbo stuffed shells were indeed jumbo -- two would be sufficient as a filling entree -- and were generously stuffed with creamy cheeses.

I was more stuffed than the shells by the time we finished our food, which also included dinner salads (served with all entrees) and two baskets of garlic bread. But when the dessert tray casually passed by, gluttony was not a deterrent. The tiramisu ($4.25) was calling. While some of the desserts change weekly (tortes and cakes), the tiramisu, along with New York cheesecake and cannoli, are staples.

In the 10 years since I first discovered Antonio's, the food and service have remained consistently good. Locally owned and operated by the same family since opening 16 years ago, they have the routine down and have perfected the art of blending atmosphere, personal service, Old World traditions, new culinary trends and home-cooked meals.

A highly recommended repast after one of those days.

-- Suzanne Becker

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