Northern Italian Food At Its Best In Berwyn

Posted: January 10, 1988

With the opening of Avanti, an excellent northern Italian restaurant on Lancaster Avenue, Berwyn once again has a worthy place for fine dining.

Avanti opened two months ago on the site of the unlamented Baxter's Saloon & Eatery; prior to Baxter's, the building was the home of the Continental - like Avanti, a very fine restaurant.

While the menu offers a relatively standard selection of Italian dishes, impressive execution makes the food a standout.

Indeed, a portent of fine things to come was evident with the first taste of the stuffed mushrooms appetizer ($4.75) - eight firm button caps filled with finely chopped prosciutto and shallots, bathed in a white wine sauce and finished with a veneer of Parmesan.

From a list of 10 pasta dishes offered either as an appetizer or entree, homemade lasagna ($3.90 and $7.50) - a generous portion of firm pasta layered with ricotta and slathered with tomato sauce enriched with ground beef and sausage - made a wonderful first course. Ziti and asparagus ($3.90 and $7.75) was slightly overcooked pasta with firm chunks of green asparagus in a well- made tomato sauce; sprinkled with parsley, it was a good dish that cried out for a few twists from a pepper mill.

Rich, home-cooked minestrone ($1.50) was oil-touched broth chock-full of baby lima beans, peas, fresh tomato, carrots, pasta, white beans, corn, onions, green beans and shreds of beef. Hot garlic bread ($1.25), redolent of garlic, was drenched with melted butter.

Dinner began with a complimentary dish of moderately spicy green chili peppers in oil, a real taste treat, and a wicker basket of crusty Italian bread with commercial butter tubs.

A salad of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, grated carrots and red cabbage and peeled cucumber rounds was notable for its crusty, homemade croutons - and the little chunk of ice hidden beneath the greens to keep them chilled.

Main dishes were equally delightful, particularly veal saltimbocca ($12.95), which was three delicate cutlets topped with prosciutto, fresh mushrooms and a slice of mozzarella and enrobed in a robust Madeira sauce. It came with a medley of carrots, peas, corn and green beans. Scallops Avanti ($10.25) offered tender deep-sea scallops and fresh mushrooms sauteed in brandy and light cream and served atop al dente cappellini, the delicate angel hair pasta.

A crisp, ricotta-stuffed cannoli shell ($2.75) was a pleasant dessert, but no match for a large, molded baba au rhum ($2.75) soaked with rum and dusted with powdered sugar. Seldom-found zeppole (also $2.75) was a fried doughnut puff filled with ricotta and sprinkled with confectioner's sugar.

The espresso machine was broken the night I visited, but good coffee (60 cents) was served in a clear-glass mug.

Service was exceptionally friendly and attentive.

The relatively small dining room is prettily decorated with lace cafe curtains and tables with burgundy padded table covers set with white linen napkins, a white picnic candle and a bouquet of dried baby's breath and red silk carnations; popular music played softly in the background.

Welcome, Avanti.

AVANTI

496 Lancaster Ave., Berwyn, 640-3877.

Open: Lunch scheduled to begin tomorrow, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; dinner 4:30-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., until 11 p.m. Fri. & Sat. Closed Sun.

Price range: Appetizers average $4.25, entrees $13.

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard.

Nonsmoking section: No.

Facilities for handicapped: Yes.

Atmosphere: Unpretentious.

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