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Remembrance of Things Pasta

The ravioli sauce did an encore appearance on lunch's lasagna di spinaci tre formaggi ($6.25), a dense package of noodles, cheese and spinach that was so large it defied finishing (see Mouthing Off for the recipe). Generous, too, was an order of pasta pesto ($6.25), with well-cooked fettuccine noodles tossed in a pine-nut-chunky garlic-and-basil blend. The antipasto misto panino ($5.50) packed all the important Italian sub ingredients--provolone, mozzarella, cappicola, salami, lettuce, tomato and onion, all saturated with a snappy vinaigrette--into one of Roland's just-baked rolls.

Among the very few things Canino's doesn't make in-house are the sorbets, which Roland imports from Italy. These flavor-concentrated concoctions are more like ice cream in texture and taste than a typical sorbet, and each one arrived in a fruit shell. We sampled the peach and the lemon ($3.50), then applied ourselves to a cannoli ($3.25) that offered two dining choices within its five-inch-long shell. One side contained a sweet cheese compound studded with chocolate chips, while the other side was plain.

That cannoli pretty much summed up the philosophy of the final restaurant in Roland Canino's fifty-year career. At Canino's, you can sit in a bustling area if you like your Italian noisy and family-like, or you can sit at a secluded corner table under woven grapevines and flickering lights. You can order your food plain, or you can order it fancy. Either way, you're guaranteed a good meal.

Location Info

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Maggiano's Little Italy

500 16th St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Downtown Denver

Just when you thought Denver dining was going to the dogs, Roland Canino saved his best for last.

While Canino's serves up the real thing, the massive new Maggiano's Little Italy in the Denver Pavilions is mock Italian, down to the red-and-white-checked tablecloths and the all-Frank, all-the-time soundtrack. (In the way-fancy ladies' room, one server confessed that she doesn't know how much more Sinatra she can take.) With its huge portions of fair-to-middlin' fare, Maggiano's is Il Fornaio meets the Cheesecake Factory, and since we already have one of each of those downtown, it's hard to imagine why Denver needs 450 more seats. (The concept comes by way of Chicago's Lettuce Entertain You, but four years ago Maggiano's merged with Brinker International, the folks that also brought you Chili's; Denver's is the ninth Maggiano's.) Still, the size of the meals explains some of the place's draw: Maggiano's wants to make sure you walk out of the place carrying more little bags with handles than the average credit-card-toting grandmother leaving a department-store cosmetics counter.

At lunch we began lining the ledge next to our table with doggie bags almost immediately. First to be set aside was the floury calamari ($7.95), the same limp, rubbery pieces that keep popping up all over town, here helped not at all by a too-tangy marinara sauce. We then added to our collection the hefty remains of two so-called small salads, one an oily but tasty spinach ($5.95) with gorgonzola, bacon and pine nuts, the other a jumble of iceberg and romaine lettuces topped with prosciutto that was supposed to be "crispy" but came out looking like canned bacon bits.

A heavy hand with the salt spoiled the mushroom ravioli al forno ($10.95), several extra-large noodle cases stuffed with criminis and suspended in a thick sauce that tasted like cream of saline solution. The sauce was better on the gnocchi ($10.95), thinly flavored with tomatoes and vodka but not sturdy enough to stand up to the chewy, doughy ricotta pasta.

By now we'd racked up two more bags, but we still decided to take on the obscenely sized chocolate zuccotto cake ($4.95), a luscious bombe of a chocolate cake tiered with sambuca-spiked mousse. The Roman-style tartufo ($5.50), an enormous truffle-shaped, ice cream-filled ball, might have proved just as delicious had we been able to pierce its overly chilled self; as it was, the thing was impenetrable. We couldn't take it home--it would have melted. And the stuff we were taking home was already the gustatorial equivalent of all wet.

On a second visit, we tried to order more modestly--and wisely. But the bowl of minestrone ($3.95) was more salty soup than you'd ever want to eat, and the small Caesar salad ($5.95) was bitterly garlicky, a big pile of watery romaine buried in gooey dressing. More garlic did in the four-cheese ravioli with pesto Alfredo sauce ($6.95), which probably would have been wonderful if the pesky pesto hadn't overpowered everything else on the plate. And the asparagus ($6.95) with parmesan and vinaigrette was greasy and stringy, as though it had been cooked ahead and reconstituted in oil.

This time, though, our entrees were acceptable, if not inspired. The spaghetti in meat sauce ($12.95) stained plenty of noodles with a thin but serviceable red sauce; the chicken scallopine ($13.95) in marsala smothered chicken breasts with a straightforward sauce. By far the best of the batch was the veal chop contadina-style ($26.95), a nicely broiled, prehistoric-sized curve of veal buried in an avalanche of sauteed bell peppers, onions, mushrooms and sausage, all of which gave the meat a rustic flavor and kept it moist.

Although our doggie bags were full and so were we, we ordered the tiramisu ($5.95), another monster portion. This version was somewhat light, but the espresso-soggy ladyfingers offered enough Kahlua and mascarpone to inject the dessert with some of its traditional richness.

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