When people describe restaurants, one of the things they tend to skip over is the lighting there. And yet, the lighting you eat by (like the lighting you watch a play by) is one of the most important aspects of the whole experience. You may not notice it consciously, but it adds a subliminal note of pleasure or pain.
I'm mentioning this because the lighting at Amici, a cozy neighborhood restaurant in Kenmore, is just about perfect. It has a golden glow to it, but it's not too bright and, at the same time, not so dim you can't read a menu. The restaurant -- with its soft, stucco-colored walls, white-covered tables and dark wooden chairs surrounding them -- is pretty, too.
This is a place that does a lot with tomato sauce. Most of your favorite dishes come complete with the zesty red stuff: pastas, veal parm, chicken cacciatore, tripe, stuffed shells.
One variation on the theme, though, was the Companion's choice: Pasta ala Amici, which includes your choice of pasta (he chose spaghetti) topped with fresh tomatoes, onions, capers and fresh herbs in a wine sauce ($11.95). This was a satisfying, full-flavored dish.
And another was an evening special. Saltimbocca ($20.95), that sophisticated mix of thinly sliced veal and prosciutto with plenty of sage -- literally translated, saltimbocca means "jump in the mouth," did you know? The meat is sauteed and served with a white wine sauce. There was much too much on the plate at Amici's -- I ended up taking more than half of the Saltimbocca home for lunch, but I appreciated the clever spicing. It was, by far, the best dish of our evening.
We were not so crazy about one of our appetizers, Fried Bocconcini ($6.95). These four fairly large bread balls of mozzarella were just OK. Of course, any time you heat mozzarella, you take a risk. Go up a few degrees, and you stand a good chance of getting a stretchy, rubbery substance without very much flavor.
Guess what? We got rubber.
Another appetizer was good enough without being in any way exceptional. Garlic Bread ($3.95) with mozzarella and spinach was a nice accompaniment to wine. Salads were fresh and good.
Desserts included a pretty sensational Cannoli ($5.95), which seemed to be the only housemade sweet offered at the time.
So, comfort food is what you get aplenty at Amici's: Sicilian Calamari over Penne with Marinara Sauce ($12.95), Fettucine Alfredo ($13.95), Lasagna ($10.95), Chicken Parm ($16.95), Eggplant Rolotini (rolled with ricotta and mozzarella, $12.95), Baked Seafood Stuffed Fish ($15.95).
You can even order a chicken finger dinner; small (5) is $6.95, large (10) is $9.95, both prepared your choice of mild, medium or hot and served with blue cheese, celery, carrots and french fries.
It's not a surprising menu, no. But we don't have to be gastronomically challenged all the time. Amici is a a pleasant place to eat and relax.
Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)
WHERE: 2516 Elmwood Ave., Kenmore (874-0143). Homey and attractive Italian restaurant offering huge portions of everyone's favorites. Lots of red sauce here. Wine and beer only. Credit Cards: American Express, Master Card, Visa.
FAVORITE DISH: Saltimbocca
NEEDS WORK: Fried Bocconcini
PRICE RANGE: Dinner entrees from $16.95 include salad or pasta. Pasta from $11.95.
SERVICE: Very good.
HOURS: 4 to 10 p.m. Monday; 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday; 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 4 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Closed Tuesday.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
PARKING: Parking lot in the rear.
RATINGS: Stars reflect the overall dining experience at the time of The News' visit -- including service, ambience, innovation and cost -- with greatest weight given to quality of the food.