Northern Italian

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Menu writing should be taught (or maybe it is) in those culinary academies that turn out all our chefs. Or perhaps, along with the health inspection, a spelling and grammar test should be required.

To read the menus in many restaurants, you'd think there were no rules of writing, in which case all these editors I work for would be out of a job. Meanwhile, I'm barely bothered anymore by "Ceasar" salad and "portabella" mushrooms, "proscuitto" and "broccolli." (Isn't there a menu spellcheck?)

Still, "sundry" tomatoes threw me for a minute. ("Assorted" tomatoes? "Various" tomatoes? "Miscellaneous" tomatoes?) Sun-dried, of course, is what was meant. I don't mean to be picky, or put blame where it's undeserved--Ferrari's menu is spelled mostly correctly. But it's rarer to find a well-written menu than a well-written book, and I wonder whether it bothers anyone else--or is it just a food writer's pet peeve?

Anyway, Ferrari's was formerly in the Brewery; now, like everything else, it's out north of LBJ on Midway. And they've added "Italian Villa" to the name. Otherwise, the important things haven't changed. They still serve that wonderful foccacia bread, the toasted cheese crust bubbling away from the loaf, to devour while you order. The platter is centered by a ramekin of fresh marinara, spotted with seeds of hot pepper and, like chips and salsa, it guarantees you'll eat too much before you're served dinner.

There's a big brick oven on one wall surrounded by white and bright-colored tiles and surmounted by a big photograph of a mean-looking Italian mama stoking a similar fire, like an ancestral portrait over the mantel. On the way to our table, we passed the loaded antipasto table set out near the door--a hospitable touch. If you order it, your waiter takes your plate over to that table and selects the buffalo mozzarella, ripe tomatoes, basil, crab-stuffed tomatoes, poached asparagus, sausage. A generous beginning.

There was the usual roundup of veal, fish, and pasta dishes on the menu, and a few that caught our attention. For instance, it was hard to pass up the veal in champagne and fresh strawberries (I've had sole and banana before but not veal and strawberries). We decided instead on the filet of salmon with raisins, and the day's special, osso buco. We remembered that the pizza used to be exceptional at the Brewery restaurant, and just to make sure it still was, we tried it again.

Memory served well this time--the pizza was good, and pretty, too, with a fancy Martha Stewart-like touch: the short, pastry-like crust was actually braided like an apple pie, much prettier than it needed to be, but no prettier than it tasted with fresh basil leaves, that incredibly tender crust, and the white mozzarella that flowed off the wedges.

The much-anticipated salmon was not as good. The fish was overcooked by current standards, and the raisin-marsala sauce was too syrupy-sweet.

Fortunately for me, my guest had the osso buco, and it was delicious here and ample enough for two. The big braised shank was smothered with a sauce of chopped vegetables. The meat slipped easily from the bone and married with the sauce, and by using the tip of our knife, we were even able to extract a morsel of marrow.

--Mary Brown Malouf

Ferrari's Italian Villa, 14831 Midway Road, 980-9898, Fax 980-9903. Open for lunch Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., for dinner Monday-Thursday 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5 p.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 5 p.m.-10 p.m.

Ferrari's Italian Villa:
Pizza Margherita $10.95
Antipasto for one $6.95
Salmon with raisins $16.95

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