Love story

We needed a quick bite on a Monday evening. No restaurant is crowded on Mondays, except maybe Star Canyon. So we didn't think twice about dropping in without a reservation at Amore, a little place in Snider Plaza where I heard the food had improved.

It has. And the place was packed. We had to wait 15 minutes for a table. Of course, it was the Monday after Thanksgiving and turkey fatigue had probably set in for most people, recycled mashed potatoes and dried-out breast meat making a meal of pasta even more appealing than usual.

Marc and Susan Hall seem to have the concession in Snider Plaza--he owns Peggy Sue's eclectic barbecue at one end, then, moving north, the southwestern cafe Cisco Grill and just a block up from Lovers Lane, is Amore, opened in 1983. On the menu, you're told that the Halls modeled Amore after the "colorful neighborhood restaurants of New York City." Well, I guess this as "colorful" as Park Cities gets--the blocks around Snider Plaza ran a narrow, affluent gamut from semi-mansions to SMU student-oriented apartments. Little Italy it ain't, but it is charming.

Amore is a tiny, dimly lit place, with a decor seemingly more accrued than planned. There's a big portrait of the Hall family; besides that, the walls are hung with a collection of masterpieces--all Mona Lisas. The mysterious smile is everywhere, in every size, from tiny, wallet-sized versions to big life-sized reproductions.

As I remember it, when it first opened, Amore served mainly red-sauced, American-style Italian food, fairly standard but not at all terrible. Now the menu also features "lighter, more contemporary selections," the kind of description that usually makes me recoil in teeth-clenching horror. But don't worry--the food will exceed your expectations. It's alleged lightness doesn't make itself noticeable in the mouth and "contemporary" seems to refer to the use of sun-dried tomatoes and grilled vegetables more than anything else. The food at Amore, however you categorize it, is good and that's what matters.

The brushetta (sic) was not particularly impressive. More the kind of dish you'd serve a hungry Scout troop snack than the original elegantly subtle Tuscan grilled bruschetta, this was split commercial French bread spread with tomato sauce and topped with melted cheese. And salads, Caesar and otherwise, were fine but forgettable. The handmade plain pizza would have made a better appetizer, a lightly crisped bread crust simply topped with tomato sauce and cheese, the individual eight-inch size a nice deal for six dollars.

Rigatoni rosa, which comes with the four asterisks that indicate "lighter entrees" (another bad buzzword for me) was a pasta bowl full of perfectly al dente thick pasta tubes coated with a rich-tasting semi-sauce of sun-dried tomatoes and sweet red-bell peppers bound together with pesto and olive oil, brightened with garlic. And frutta de mare, a lovely surprise, was so much more than you'd expect in a little restaurant like this, so much more extravagant than it needed to be, yet composed with a deftly light touch. A platter of linguine in sheer white-garlic cream sauce was topped with scallops and shrimp and ringed around with steamed mussels and clams in a splendid sunflower presentation. Even an over-used dish like chicken cacciatore was delicious here, the portion enormous, the bird tender, the sauce deep.

Our waiter was so busy that we never did find out what the fish of the day was, or if there were any specials, but that might be the price of how packed the place was. It makes you wonder--what would Amore be like on a Friday night? We suggest reservations.

--Mary Brown Malouf

Amore, 6931 Snider Plaza, 739-0502. Open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.- 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Brushetta $2.95
Rigatoni Rosa $7.75
Frutta di Mare $13.95
Chicken Cacciatore $9.50

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