AUNTIE PASTA'S began life in Tonawanda this month with an interesting idea. The concept: Offer very carefully prepared food -- mostly Italian food, as you might guess from the name of the place -- and charge moderate prices.
Few people are going to argue with that, of course. Dinners here, with choice of salad or soup, run no higher than $9.95; many are in the $7 range. At lunch, a Steak Plate (Angus sirloin, seared with crushed black peppercorns) runs $7.95. Food is presented with flair; surroundings are comfortable though not luxurious, and parking is readily available.
The new restaurant is owned by Seth Geller, who once ran a restaurant called Old World Cookery on Rhode Island Street and later on Allen Street. His wife, Ginny, oversees the kitchen. (Ginny once cooked on the local morning television shows.)
The obvious choice to begin our meal late last Saturday night was a Sicilian Primo Antipasto ($6.95 for a beautiful big plate, easily enough for four diners). Peppers were on this antipasto plate, needless to say -- and chichi beans, olives and all the rest -- but the real star was the Caponata, extra-good when piled on the crusty bread. (The bread comes with little tubs of seasoned butters, also.)
Another excellent choice -- the Companion's Three Onion Soup (if ordered a la carte, $2.50). This rich and zesty concoction, based on chicken broth, was garnished with a big cheese crouton rather than an all-over, choke-inducing cap of cheese. Vive la difference (or however you say it in Italian).
I was, perhaps, not quite so pleased with my Spaghettini Carbonara for $8.25, mainly because I like Carbonara done in the classic fashion, with eggs scrambled in at the last minute.
This version was prepared with thick, creamy sauce that to me was excessively rich. The Pancetta, however, added terrific flavor.
No complaints re the Companion's Filet of Top Sirloin, though -- $9.95 for a tender hunk of meat. Was it slightly dry? Well, maybe a wee bit, but it had a good beefy taste (as opposed to the more refined flavor of meat cut from the tenderloin). The colorful plate also held pasta in a good red sauce, and green beans.
Desserts ($2.95) were fine. Actually, more than fine. Loved the White Chocolate Mousse Tart filled with raspberries, made in-house. We tried, too, the almond-flavored Pear Tart because we knew it had been purchased from Croquembouche. Not surprisingly, it too was a winner.
What else would we have eaten? Fettucine Alfredo with Atlantic Salmon ($9.95), Linguini alla Escargot ($7.50), Gambero Fra Diablo (Pasta and Shrimp in Spicy Red Sauce, $7.25). There are Parmigianas galore and a choice of Spaghettinis, too.
Marinara Sauce or plain Tomato Sauce runs $5.95.
Warren's ***(Dec. 19)
Warren's, 561 Main St., Tonawanda (694-3700). A large restaurant where the chef has innovative ideas.
Il Fiorentino ****(Dec. 12)
Il Fiorentino, 8485 Transit Road, East Amherst (625-4250). This popular Tuscan restaurant has just moved from Kenmore to a country setting in Clarence. Authentic foods are featured.
Founding Fathers **(Dec. 5)
Founding Fathers, 75 Edward St. (855-8944). American history theme in this atmospheric pub. Sandwiches and salads are featured.
Osaka *** * (Nov. 28)
Osaka, 3112 Main St. (831-0443). Handsome Japanese restaurant with a good sized sushi bar. Also a large menu featuring grilled items, noodle dishes and bento boxes. Wine and beer license on the way.
McMahon's *** * (Nov. 21)
McMahon's, 952 Maple Road, Williamsville (689-3011). Official name: Steak, Seafood & Whisky Bar. A personality change for what was once an Italian family restaurant and an homage to the late great steak house of the same name.
Pearl Street Grill & Brewery ** 1/2 *
Pearl Street Grill & Brewery, 76 Pearl St. (856-2337). Approximately the size of Asia, this newly opened, good-natured brewery/restaurant features brick walls, exposed piping and handsome beer kettles.
Adam's Rib ** 1/2 (Nov. 7)
Adam's Rib, 4517 Main St., Snyder. (839-3846). Convivial bar/restaurant. Dark and comfortable with a conservative menu.
Papaya Cafe ** 1/2 * (Oct. 31)
Papaya Cafe, 177 Hodge Ave. (885-8219). Exactly 20 people can sit in this restaurant, which specializes in Pacific Rim food. Takeout is available.
Garlock's ** 1/2 (Oct. 24)
Garlock's, 35 S. Transit, Lockport (433-5595). An institution. This homey restaurant in the center of town specializes in beef and lots of it.
Eckl's ***(Oct. 17)
Eckl's, 4936 Ellicott Road, Orchard Park (662-2262). Renowned, well-established restaurant that specializes in roast beef and steak.
Rizzo's **(Oct. 10)
Rizzo's, 2763 Eggert Road, Tonawanda (834-4404). All the usual pastas, pizzas, seafood, etc. Enormous servings. (Another Rizzo's is at 15 New Road, Amherst.)
* Indicates restaurant is so new that this is a provisional rating.
AUNTIE PASTA'S *** *
3347 Delaware Ave., Tonawanda (875-6021). An informal restaurant that features well-prepared, moderately priced, mostly Italian food. Beer and wine not yet available. Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.
BEST DISH: Filet of Top Sirloin.
NEEDS WORK: Everything is of good quality.
PRICE RANGE: Dinners from $7.25 include salad or soup.
HOURS: Lunch, Mon. through Fri. Dinner, Sun. through Thurs. 5 to 10; Fri. and Sat. 5 to 11.
HEALTH-CONSCIOUS CHOICES: The pastas.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.
PARKING: Lots in back and front.
KID APPEAL: Yes. Children's portions $1 less.
KEY: *FAIR, **GOOD, ***VERY GOOD, ****EXCELLENT, *****EXTRAORDINARY. Stars are awarded for the quality of the food only.