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Perfetto could use more rehearsal time

When Perfetto launched in January, the new fine-dining Italian restaurant in the Theater District featured a singing waiter, an exuberant touch for its intended core crowd of arts patrons. ¶ During our visit three weeks ago, we heard no singing waiters. One male staffer was shouting at the Sabres game displayed on the main bar’s televisions, but that doesn’t count. Just after curtain time for “Sister Act,” the place was almost empty. ¶ The vast 260-seat restaurant, which stretches from Main to Washington Street, has been refitted in fine style, with lots of dark wood, candlelit exposed brick and comfy furniture. We were shown to a corner table beside a flickering electric fireplace.

Our foursome ordered a cup of beef vegetable soup ($5), braised pork belly with white bean puree, wilted escarole and tomato confit ($10), warm calamari salad with artichokes and olives ($9) and shrimp and polenta with smoked tomato chutney ($11) for starters.

We asked for a box salad ($8) with toasted pine nuts, pomegranate seeds and apple cider vinaigrette, and a classic Caesar ($9). Two pastas followed, the shrimp diablo ($28) and carbonara bucatini ($16) with pancetta and peas.

For entrees, I asked for the crispy skin red snapper ($17) with puttanesca sauce, and Cat asked for the acorn squash risotto ($16) with spinach and gorgonzola cheese. Our guests chose the 10-ounce filet mignon ($39) with risotto, and the seafood cioppino ($30).

Our server brought two kinds of warm rolls, herbed white and wheat, and a dollop of tasty red pepper pesto. The beef soup was agreeably peppery.

The box salad was an intriguing package, field mix wrapped in cucumber slices so that when you cut, it expands into a plate of salad. The cider vinaigrette, nutty pignolis and pomegranate seeds kept it interesting. The Caesar arrived with too much dressing, the thickness of straight mayonnaise, and uncut romaine leaves.

Our guests enjoyed the calamari salad’s poached squid rings, artichoke hearts and plentiful black and green olives. I thought the squid was fine but the amount of briny olives overpowered the seafood.

The pork belly arrived on a long plate, atop bean puree and bookended by dabs of wilted greens, which seemed surprisingly plain. The bigger surprise was the pork belly, which was chewy and required vigorous sawing, instead of yielding reluctantly to the fork like well-braised meat.

The shrimp diablo, served with nuggetlike radiatore pasta, was crowned with five colossal, vigorously seasoned shrimp. They were cooked accurately and were supported well by the sweet-spicy tomato sauce. Our other pasta also won praise, the carbonara’s creamy richness teetering on too much with pancetta nuggets and Parmesan cheese.

Our server realized our polenta appetizer never made it to the table, and apologized. He seemed new by the way he almost burned himself lighting our table lamp, but he was polite, and trying.

My snapper entrée arrived short of promised crispiness, with skin that had been browned but was soft when it arrived. Its briny-sweet topping of tomato-olive puttanesca sauce was a satisfying counter to the fish’s moist mildness.

Cat’s acorn squash risotto was a halved unpeeled squash that had been roasted into saggy softness, then topped with risotto and tomato cream sauce. The risotto was gummy. It was difficult to get a forkful of risotto and sweet squash together without getting squash skin – edible, but inelegant – in the bargain.

The seafood cioppino bowl was crowded with excellent quality seafood in a delicious broth that seemed enriched with wine or liqueur. We got two massive shrimp, four or five medium scallops, a piece of whitefish, 10 mussels and a small split lobster tail. Each type of seafood was cooked well, a rarity.

The filet was terrific – tender interior perfectly rare as requested, enough char on the outside. Unfortunately, its bed of risotto had been cooked until it was more like mashed potatoes than rice.

Three desserts were $8 each. The crème brûlée had excellent custard but a crust so thin it didn’t crunch. The chocolate terrine featured two dense slabs of smooth, creamy fudge. The deconstructed cannoli was a big scoop of cannoli filling in a martini glass with pieces of chocolate-dipped cannoli shell, with blueberries and strawberries.

In a town with no lack of fine dining Italian, Perfetto’s kitchen comes off as an understudy.

Perfetto: Six plates (Out of 10)

Fine dining Italian newcomer to Theater District could use more rehearsals.

WHERE: 617 Main St. (768-3728,

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10:30 p.m. Friday; 5 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $9-$16; soups and salads, $5-$9; pastas, $16-$28; entrees, $16-$39.

PARKING: On the street.