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Authentic Italian eats on Park Avenue

Cappuccino Italiano Café 

Authentic Italian eats on Park Avenue

Gut instincts

Vodka sauce from the firmament

"I never wanted to go in partners with someone," Mary Jane Spring says, "but I figured I knew him well enough." He is Antonio Filippone, the molto Italiano cook and Spring's co-owner at Cappuccino Italiano Cafe. "I worked for him across the street," she says, referring to the well-regarded Bacco, "I worked for him on East Avenue, and I worked for him in Canandaigua." Those last two were locations of Filippone's The Best of Italy.

Spring first opened Cappuccino Italiano in Gates two years ago. When the Bay Tree space became available on Park Avenue, she saw a better location, but couldn't do it on her own. In came Filippone, and the concept expanded to include a small but high-quality dinner menu. Filippone cooks dinner; Spring is in charge of lunch. Filippone also sells and services high-end, European espresso machines. Spring, a long-time barista, has the skill to handle these Ferraris and turns out excellent cups.

The lunch menu is elegantly spare: two salads, four grilled sandwiches, and three wraps. The "gourmet salad" has field greens, artichoke heart petals (a lovely touch), red onion, roasted red pepper, and Spring's father's balsamic dressing ($6.95). "Zito's salad," named for Spring's late father, adds chicken and vegetables. "Can't forget my daddy," she says. "He's happy every day when he sees that on the menu."

Spring refuses to divulge the source of her sandwich focaccia. The crisp outer shells aren't too thick for sandwiches, and olive oil and herbs lend distinction without distracting from the fillings. The roast beef is tender and simply presented with tomato, mayo, and melted provolone. The marinated portobello sandwich adds pesto to the usual roasted red pepper. Each sandwich's ingredients are carefully considered, simple and balanced. All come with a generous side salad ($7.95).

The dinner menu is larger, but still fits on two sparely printed pages. It provides enough choice for the customer but still allows Filippone to do a manageable number of things well (many restaurants should follow suit). Antipasti include fresh mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto with roasted pepper and olives ($7.95), and the best artichoke French I've ever had ($6.95). The breading adhered magically, the hearts themselves were of exceptional quality, and the olive oil, butter, and lemon sauce was perfect.

Sacchettini were new to me ($12.95). The word means bag, and indeed the pastas are small sacks filled with prosciutto and cheese. A touch of red pepper sent the tomato-vodka sauce into orbit. I've had it twice and will again. Filippone's standard red sauce is a marinara, cooked properly so that chunky tomato shines without the slightest watery character. That comes on spaghetti with or without a large meatball ($9.95), and on a few other pastas. My wife, Anne, had it on fresh manicotti, a simple treat ($12.95).

Once a fan of veal saltimbocca, I hadn't ordered it in years. It's become something of a commoditized, kitchen-sink kind of dish. Plus, I'm not totally (only mostly) insensitive to the moral difficulty around veal, and seldom run into an instance good enough to overcome my modest guilt. But something said, "try it here." Filippone came out of the kitchen to say --- as Spring had --- that his version of the dish is authentically Roman, without the escarole, cheese, and whatever you often see. So, Saltimbocca ala Romana was just veal, prosciutto, and a wine sauce, with four scrumptious kalamata olives on the side ($15.95). And it rocked, another dish in which all the parts contributed to the whole organically. The veal cut with a fork (as it must), the sauce was succulent.

The espresso is some of the best in the area (part the machinery, part the barista, part the imported coffee). It's also cheap at $1.35 a shot. And when you're in the mood for a goofball dessert-coffee drink, skip the frappamoccalatto and try Cappuccino Italiano's black and white cappuccino with two Ghirardelli chocolate sauces. As Dick Enberg says, "Oh, my!"

There's more worth exploring (risottos, homemade gnocchi and soups, polenta, seafood). And the service, largely provided by Spring, is warm and accommodating (she made all sorts of allowances for our children). The prices are completely reasonable, and considering quality, better than that. And Spring just got a wine and beer license. After a series of good but ill-fated restaurants in that space, I think we have a winner.

Cappuccino Italiano Cafe, 262 Park Avenue, 458-1380. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m..

Food tip

Super Suppers just opened in CourtneyCommons in Fairport. Customers can assemble their own meals selected from prepared items. It's open Monday through Saturday (223-4190). In that same plaza, which also houses Perinton Pizza, the Ravioli Shop will open a second location by Monday, December 11. Like the original on Winton, it will be open Monday through Saturday (223-0270).

--- Michael Warren Thomas of www.SavorLife.com.

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