Pomodoro Ristorante
2366 Eastlake Ave E, 324-3160
Sun-Thurs 5:30 pm- midnight, Fri-Sat 5 pm-2 am.

Pomodoro is tucked under the skirt of a big modern office building on Eastlake Avenue East, but step through the door and the aromas and ambience take you straight to Southern Europe. The menu is divided in two: Spanish tapas on the left and Italian pastas on the right, and my dining entourage veered toward Italy. Inspired by the restaurant's name, we started with a giant slab of beefsteak tomato ($6.50) dressed in balsamic vinegar and topped with a confetti of basil and fresh mozzarella--an appetizer ample enough for three to share.

When it came time to order entrées, my finicky brother put the kitchen to the test by specifying his dinner-sized caesar salad (topped with seasoned chicken breast, $11.95) be lightly dressed--he hates to see romaine suffocating under a thick coat of rich dressing--and was delighted when his salad arrived green and sparkling with a perfectly moderate amount of caesar zing and zest.

I recently discovered potato- flour gnocchi (at Big John's Pacific Food Importers; if you love Italian food and haven't been there yet, drop everything and go now: 1001 Sixth Ave S) and since have been a little obsessed, so I was thrilled to find them on the menu amid the pastas. As I ordered, I silently thanked my sophisticated friend who had just the week before taught me to say "NYOH-kee," and I forgave the waitress when she responded with, "The noCHAY? Okay. "

Gnocchi (Italian for "dumplings") are hand-rolled little footballs of boiled dough. Pomodoro's were perfect: wee, dimpled, more tender than chewy, and joined by beer-boiled fennel sausage and mushrooms in a chunky tomato sauce ($12.95).

My husband chose well (Ravioli Specialle, $14.95) and was rewarded with a pretty plate of smoked-salmon-filled pasta pillows bathed in creamy marinara sauce and garnished with basil. The salty salmon and sweet tomato sauce danced beautifully together.

More good things: There's free parking next to the restaurant after 6:00 p.m. and the kitchen serves until midnight weeknights and 2:00 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

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