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OLD-FASHIONED LOVE MAROTTO'S RESTAURANT SERVES UP A SLICE OF THE PAST

THERE ARE not too many surprises at Marotto's Restaurant, maybe, but certainly the customers are fed substantially. This is a restaurant in the old tradition, a restaurant with a capital "R" -- you'll note dark red (slightly worn) carpet, starched white tablecloths and napkins, a separate barroom at the entrance at which the decidedly non-yuppie regulars are very comfortable.

The kitchen remains -- as kitchens always were in the old days -- completely closed to view.

Which may be the reason why the dining room stays relatively tranquil. Service is utterly professional -- and non-intrusive World War II-era music plays in the background. In other words, a (welcome) case of time warp is here.

Yes, you can order Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail ($5.95) and Florentine Mushrooms ($3.95), New York Strip and Pork Chops ($11.95), Lobster Tail and Lasagna Al Forno ($6.95). But there are contemporary and/or original touches, too.

The French Onion Soup ($1.95) is baked with three cheeses, the Scampi turns up in a sauce pointed up with Asti Spumante. There's an appetizer called a Fish Board ($6.95) in which the salmon and trout are actually smoked by the owner.

And something called "lite butter" and "lite anchovy" keeps turning up -- whatever they may be, that is. One cannot, it seems, escape the food police, even here.

But we digress. We began our meal with the soup of the day ($1.75) -- made right in the restaurant's own kitchen, the menu says. And there wasn't much reason to disagree. This Vegetable Soup had hearty flavor; the taste of fresh celery came through loud and clear.

And an even better appetizer was an evening special -- Bay Scallops baked in Mornay Sauce. About 25 pinkie-sized mollusks turned up in the casserole so we both dived into it. They were tender and tasty. The sauce was cheese-y and rich.

A spongy little bread loaf accompanied the salad which was -- well, just a salad. Not quite up to the quality of our first courses.

But things looked up a little with the entrees. For the Companion they looked up, anyway. His Bar B-Q Back ($14.95) ribs were finger lickin' sticky and tasty. My Liver and Onions ($8.95) were a tad disappointing.

Thinly cut baby beef liver was not pink on the inside the way I like it (it was so skinny there was no way it could be) and the outside wasn't crusty. There were plenty of nice fried onions, so I concentrated on them.

Also on the little red skinned potatoes which had intriguing garlic top notes.

Available desserts included all manner of restaurant-constructed chocolate creations but we settled for slithery Creme Caramel.

Other items on the dinner menu: Chicken Luigi -- boneless breast sauteed with mushrooms, onion in a Marsala marina sauce ($10.95), Pasta Marinara with Mixed Vegetables ($8.95), and Double Lamb Chops ($14.95 ), by way of being a house specialty here.

SECOND HELPINGS
Le Peche ** 1/2 (March 17)
610 Main St. (845-5223.) Pastries, salads, hot dishes and soups in the very heart of the Theater District. Wonderful over-the-top decor.

Sigmund's Bistro *** * (March 10)
Sigmund's Bistro, 724 Maple Road, Williamsville (688-2051). Sophisticated decor, extensive menu, open kitchen.
Caddyshack Grille Room **(March 3)
Caddyshack Grille Room, 8230 Wehrle Drive, Williamsville (633-3908). This little restaurant attached to the Caddyshack Gold Dome brings thoughts of spring. Bar snacks, pizza, hot specials are available.
Old Country Buffet *(Feb. 24)
Old Country Buffet, 3056 Sheridan Drive, Amherst (832-1773). Lots of choices in this dining establishment. And lots of food.
Hutch's **** * (Feb. 17)
Hutch's, 1375 Delaware Ave. (885-0074). A brand-new bistro that offers contemporary food with style and verve.
ZuZon American Grille **** * (Feb. 10)
ZuZon American Grille, 5110 Main St., Williamsville (634-6123). A handsome California-style restaurant with an eclectic menu. Wood-burning oven pizzas and entrees.
Preservation Hall ***(Feb. 3)
Preservation Hall, 532 Elmwood Ave. (884-4242). One of Western New York's few vegetarian restaurants has moved to larger, more comfortable quarters.
Stella Bistro *** 1/2 (Jan. 27)
Stella Bistro, 26 Church St., St. Catharines, Ont. (905-685-6828). Charming and very Italian, this little place features an array of fresh salads and vegetable dishes. that is not to be believed.
Giacobbi's ** 1/2 (Jan. 20)
Giacobbi's, 4715 Transit Road, Williamsville (632-2318). Italian with a little California thrown in. A good selection of home-style dishes is available.
Vinny's ** * (Jan. 13)
Vinny's, 100 Theater Place (854-1900). Large and located conveniently to theater and movies. Broad menu.
The Blackthorn ** 1/2 (Jan. 6)
The Blackthorn, 2134 Seneca St (825-9327). This pretty little restaurant is like a breath of fresh air. Snacks, sandwiches and entrees.
* indicates this restaurant is so new that this is a provisional rating.
** indicates rating is based on Early Bird menu.

MAROTTO'S ** 1/2
3365 Delaware Ave., Kenmore (873-0551). No real surprises here but this long established restaurant offers well prepared popular standards. Forties music plays gently in the background; there's a busy bar. Credit cards: American Express, Mastercard, Visa.

BEST DISH: Bay Scallops with Mornay Sauce (evening special).

NEEDS WORK: Liver and Onions.

PRICE RANGE: Dinners from $8.95 include salad,vegetable and potato.

SERVICE: Excellent.

HOURS: Lunch, Mon. through Sat.; dinner, Mon. through Sat. until 10 p.m., Sun. 4 to 9 p.m.

HEALTH-CONSCIOUS CHOICES: Pasta Marinara with Mixed Vegetables; Sole Bonne Femme, Baked Half Chicken.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.

PARKING: In the lot.
KEY: *FAIR, **GOOD, ***VERY GOOD, ****EXCELLENT, *****EXTRAORDINARY. Stars are awarded for the quality of the food only.

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