Ill-kept secret

Giuliana's has great Italian. Pass it on.

Salads are the weakness here, a major disappointment between first and main course. I would advise you just to skip them as they are served now--a freezing-cold plate of lifeless leaf lettuce lying flat as road kill, drizzled with the house dressing, a weird, thick glop of congealed tomatoey sauce. Forget it.

The menu's main dishes come from country-style Sicilian cuisine--lots of eggplant, sausage, the hearty, rich dishes that formed the basis for American Italian food. In Pasta e fagioli, swirls of noodles with beans in rich tomato sauce, the marinara was thickened by the bean starch into a hearty vegetable stew. Cappelini alla Anna mixed the same noodles with chopped Roma tomatoes and, unexpectedly, chopped, stuffed green olives instead of dark fruity ones, but the sharp saltiness was fine with the soft pasta. Ravioli--round pasta dumplings filled with mealy dry ricotta and mixed with more of that marinara--was delicious. Chicken Giuliana is the house's signature dish, a sauteed boneless breast topped with a slice of breaded, purple-edged eggplant, sprinkled with peas and artichoke hearts and sauced with a clear-brown veal reduction. Eggplant-sausage parmigiana--breaded slice of eggplant and slices of sausage layered with tomato sauce and cheese--was a mother of a casserole, as earthy as it gets.

Entrees come with a side of pasta and tomato sauce and a ratatouillelike melange of melted onions, zucchini, and squash.

Specials reached a little further; on our visits several of them were finished with the cream sauces more typical of northern Italian food, translated originally in this country into hotel or continental cuisine. A filet of snapper was topped with artichoke hearts, tomatoes, and olives; and tiny bay scallops were mixed with cooked celery and creamy cubes of avocado in a wine-cream sauce, an improbable-sounding combination that mixed beautifully into a nest of cappellini.

There is hardly a dessert in the world that could appeal after dinner food like this. Oddly, Giuliana's desserts left Italy completely:Most of them were pure American inventions, not at all a natural finish to the tastes of marinara and olive oil, but delicious nonetheless. Homemade peach blueberry pie spilling from its browned and flaky crust onto the plate in an oozing lava of luscious fruit, and cheesecake, a barely sweet wedge of white, creamy and light in the mouth, were the best we tried.

Giuliana's, Jupiter at Lookout in Garland, 530-2325. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; for dinner Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m.

Crostini $3.95
Cappellini alla Anna $7.95
Ravioli $6.95
Chicken Giuliana $10.95
Eggplant-Sausage Parmigiana $8.95

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