Tables (see review
) is a great neighborhood restaurant -- one of those places you dream of finding when you move to a new neighborhood and remember long after leaving. But if Tables is the fantasy-come-almost-true, the Cherry Tomato is indicative of the reality -- the kind of spot you usually settle for in lieu of the dream. Like Tables, it's in Park Hill, and it's a comfortable place with cracked tile floors and rough brick walls, a bar crowded with locals and twined with Christmas lights, even in August. The staff is young, the tables full of friends and families and people who've walked in from the surrounding blocks. On a visit last week, I stood at the beleaguered hostess stand and saw no empty tables at prime time on a Thursday night. I scouted the crowded bar, watched cooks in the open foxhole of a kitchen working to rush orders to the floor while the air filled with the mingling smells of onions and garlic and red sauce. The Cherry Tomato's menu is simple and ageless: homemade minestrone, caprese salad, pasta marinara, amatriciana and Alfredo, two kinds of lasagna, and a little chicken, fish and veal. I had a spaghetti carbonara that was filling and warm, if a little heavy on the cheese, and followed it with a pasta felese, the house's signature dish of artichoke hearts, peas, sundried tomatoes and chicken over farfalle in a white-wine and cream sauce that was nothing special. The red sauce with my veal was a little acidic, the veal with my veal a little tough (though the double-cutlet portion was nice). And after an evening spent gorging myself on starches and baby cows, I looked too closely at my surroundings -- only to see the stains and the missing plaster on the ceiling, the battered and well-used equipment in the kitchen. When the Cherry Tomato opened a decade ago in an old drugstore, it was a welcome addition to the neighborhood, and although it's not an ideal spot today, pleasing the neighbors remains job number one. And at that, the Cherry Tomato excels.