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Formal feel Gorgeous room adds to the ambience at Della Terra

It's a dramatic looking and glamorous restaurant. Della Terra, at the new Embassy Suites Hotel, is described by the management as an Italian bistro. But at dinnertime, it's a lot more formal than that.

The room is beautiful. It rises two stories high, and enormous glass windows offer an urban view. The hotel occupies the first few floors of the handsome Avanti building at Delaware Avenue and Cary Street, so there's lots of downtown action to see.

Tables are nicely spaced, and at dinner, are covered with elegant white cloths. Meals are presented on stylish china. If you order dessert, it will come out on a huge, elegant rippled glass plate that really adds pizazz. Dress is casual, but still the room offers special occasion appeal.

I began my meal with one of my favorite seasonal soups, Pappa al Pomodori ($5), a Tuscan soup based on fresh tomatoes. Thick bodied and rich, it was a satisfying brew, with a surprisingly mild taste despite the accompanying garlic flat bread.

Another appetizer, a huge stuffed mushroom, Portobelli Ripieni della Nonna ($8) to be exact, was much more flavorful. That great big cap was stuffed with broccoli rabe, a little sausage, roasted peppers and some fresh mozzarella (described as "house made," if you please). It's a clever twist on the ubiquitous (and usually boring) stuffed mushrooms we've all been eating for years.

Moving on to the entrees, we tried a sauteed sea scallop dish. If you were describing this musically, you would describe Capesante in Zimino ($23) as a "tutti," since just about everything got into the act: garlic, onion, celery, Swiss chard, tomatoes and olives. Impressive lineup all right, but you have to stop somewhere and there was just one ingredient too many. White anchovies. Get rid of 'em! They added too much of a fishy taste and the dish was thrown off balance.

Another entree, Rack of Lamb (Costolette d'Agnello Arrosto, $30), was cooked with an herb crust coating and topped with roasted garlic sauce. The four chops were served separately, so it was easy to eat. Still -- not perfect. The main problem? The lamb -- which had been ordered rare -- turned up medium. Though it was tender and juicy, we felt that a lot of flavor had been lost.

Desserts, served on those gorgeous glass plates, seemed worth investigating. The Chocolate Truffle Cake ($7) was moist and tasty, while something called a "Chantilly" featured a dry wafer (it almost reminded us of rusk) layered with cream. There was house-made gelato on the side.

Just the tip of the iceberg here. There's a big menu at Della Terra and there's much more to try. Listed under Antipasti are a Caprese Salad ($8) made with heirloom tomatoes and more of that house-made mozzarella. The mozzarella turns up again in a rolled eggplant dish filled with herbed ricotta ($7). There's a baby arugula salad with wine poached pears, jicama, toasted walnuts and blue cheese ($11).

Entrees include grilled rare tuna with Caponata ($29) and Veal Scallopini with artichokes ($22). There are thick-cut pork chops stuffed with cheese and mustard in a plum demi glace.($19).

The lunch menu is a lot more casual. Della Terra is proving to be a popular place for a midday meal, we're told. (Sadly, it was pretty empty at the dinner hour in the middle of the week.) For more casual eating, there's an espresso snack bar set up in the hotel lobby that offers salads and sandwiches. But what a shame it would be to miss out on the sophisticated ambience of the dining room.

***

DELLA TERRA

3 stars (out of 4)

WHERE: In the Embassy Suites Hotel, 200 Delaware Ave. (842-1000, www.buffalo.embassysuites.com). A very handsome two-story dining room in the new hotel with huge glass walls that overlook urban surroundings. An extensive menu offers a variety of Italian-influenced dishes. Credit Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.

FAVORITE DISH: Sauteed Sea Scallops

NEEDS WORK:Rack of Lamb

PRICE RANGE: Dinner entrees from $16 include vegetable and potato.

SERVICE: Very good.

HOURS: 11:30 a.m. 10 p.m. seven days.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS:Yes

PARKING: Valet service

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. *indicates that restaurant is so new that this is a provisional rating.

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