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Warm, saucy Amici gives off a golden glow and the food is nicely spicy

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.


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.

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