The big, bad night

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So the kid wrecked his car. First son, first wreck--a noteworthy day, a family milestone, an occasion that calls for (after calling for the wrecker, the body shop, the insurance company, the ex-husband, and biological father) comfort food. It's one of those times when it's very difficult being the modern mom--moms being the ones who traditionally provide the comfort food. And modern moms being most often fresh out of--not just the sort of long-simmered, full-flavored, belly-rounding food that we call comfort--but any food whatsoever. (After all, it's not until the guests actually arrive for dinner that I go to the grocery store. Dinner is a brand-new concept every day at our house; some of us are surprised every time.) So, needing comfort and needing food, both on the same plate, we drove over to Pietro's, one of Dallas' oldest Italian restaurants. Yes, it's still open, another fact that surprises some people every time.

And it's surprising, too, that there's been no updating of the slightly decrepit old house or of the menu: From the breadsticks in cello packs on every table to your carbon-backed credit card receipt, Pietro's is a living antique, changing by not changing.

Pietro's specializes in old-fashioned red-sauce Italian food, precisely the sort of thing that Primo refuses to cook in Big Night--crowd-pleasing, unsubtle concoctions of pasta and meat and tomatoes, baptized in oil, showered with cheese, designed to appeal to crass American cliches about Italian food. And they do appeal. All apologies to Italian chef-artistes like Primo and the loveliness of a perfect risotto, to the irreducible simplicity of fresh mozzarella and crusty bread, but this baroque layering of olive-oiled eggplant with rich Bolognese sauce and cheese, this mass of pasta slithering through thick tomato, this thickly creamed fettucine and heavily cheesed pizza are good too. Let others quibble about authenticity and art, our dinner at Pietro's accomplished everything a family meal is supposed to: We left satisfied and comforted.

--Mary Brown Malouf

Pietro's, 5422 Richmond, 214-824-6960. Open Tuesday -Thursday , 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5 p.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 5 p.m.-10 p.m.

10-Inch Pizza $7.50
Fettucine Alfredo $8.50

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