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Delights Old and New 

Joe Scordato's new Italian restaurant is stellar in every way

There's a very funny episode of Everybody Loves Raymond in which braciole is the star of the show. Braciole is beef, usually an inexpensive cut, stuffed with all manner of good things and then rolled before being slow-cooked in a red sauce. It's a home-cooked meal; every decent Italian cook has his/her own recipe—but you don't often find it on restaurant menus.

But braciole ($14.95) is a featured item at Guiseppe's, the newest Italian restaurant owned and operated by Joe (aka Guiseppe) Scordato. That Joe is back in the kitchen is good news; that he's putting out great food is fantastic news. Throw in friendly service and prices that are almost too good to be true, and Guiseppe's is a wonderful new addition to the local dining scene.

The dining area is small, with a partition dividing the bar and main area. The color scheme is black and white, broken only by large color-splashed canvases by a local artist. A small patio allows for some nice views of the valley and the mountains. Service was warm, attentive and well-timed. A basket of fragrant, warm rosemary focaccia was brought to the table almost immediately; all of the food arrived steaming hot; questions were quickly answered.

We started dinner with the stuffed mushrooms ($4.25), one of several Scordato family recipes on the menu. Breadcrumbs, garlic, cheeses and more had been blended together and stuffed into four perfectly cooked white mushroom caps. The aroma was heavenly; one bite, and I was hooked. Another order wouldn't have been out of the question, but more food was coming, so we held off—and it's good that we did. The portions are humongous, with enough left over—even at lunch—to bring home for later.

We ordered that night's special, vitello mezzaluna ($15.95), along with the braciole. Both came with linguini.

The vitello mezzaluna was thinly sliced veal, topped with prosciutto and covered with a creamy tomato vodka sauce. The sweet meat practically melted in the mouth. The sauce was a wonder, velvety smooth and full of rich flavors. The pasta was cooked perfectly.

And the braciole? This is among the best I've ever had (the best being mine, of course). The meat was practically tender enough to cut with a fork, and the stuffing was similar to that found in the mushrooms, but decidedly softer. The wine sauce was thick and rich from slow-cooking; tender green peppers and onions kicked up the taste profile. I'm still dreaming about it.

We finished off the meal with dolce de Patricia ($4.25), consisting of layers of yellow Italian sponge cake (nothing like that cloying stuff found in stores) and fluffy chocolate cream.

A few words about the wine: The house wines (one red and one white) can be had for a mere $3 per glass! The rest of the wine list has enough reds and whites, at unheard-of prices.

The full dinner menu is available at lunch, but there's also a lunch menu. We had no wine this time, but we did have some damn good iced tea ($1.25).

We shared a cup of homemade minestrone soup ($3.25). I'm usually not a big fan of minestrone; it's often too salty and overcooked, rendering the noodles into a mushy mess. Not so here. This was a big "cup" of tender veggies (including tomatoes, zucchini, carrots and onion) in a savory tomato broth with plenty of perfectly cooked ditali pasta. A sprinkle of Romano cheese and a grind or two of black pepper added more levels of flavor.

We ordered the sausage sandwich ($7.95) and were given a choice of more of that tasty focaccia or crusty Italian; we opted for the latter. We also ordered the manicotti ($7.95). At dinner, the manicotti is an appetizer ($4.25.)

The thin sheets of tasty pasta in the manicotti had been wrapped around slightly seasoned ricotta and topped with a red sauce and plenty of mozzarella, before being baked to a golden brown.

As good as this dish was, it was the sausage sandwich that was the star of the meal. Redolent with herbs and spices, most notably oregano and fennel, several sausage patties are served on crusty bread, open-face style. I haven't had sausage this fresh and wonderful in years. Topped with a dash of red sauce made with sweated-down green peppers and onions, the sandwich was accompanied by the most wonderful Parmesan potatoes, thin as paper and perfectly crisped.

We took home the tiramisu ($5), as well as part of the sandwich and some of the pasta. This dessert seems to be everywhere these days—and most of it is pretty bad. I know I'm repeating myself, but Guiseppe's tiramisu was some of the best I've had in a long time.

Guiseppe's takes the best of the old and throws in a dose of modern smarts. It is a winning combination that adds up to a marvelous restaurant—one that I will visit again and again.

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