Continuing on the quest to rediscover some old favorites that have fallen off our radar, we popped into Bar Italia in the Central West End not too long ago. The restaurant has been around since 1983, and there's good reason for its longevity, as we were reminded during this most recent visit.

Although billed oftentimes as an upscale destination, the restaurant space was quite casual and comfortable with no hint at all of a stuffy ‘white-tablecloth’ vibe.

There were a plethora of starters on the menu, and making a decision proved to be more difficult than anticipated. Finally, the Antipasto di Carne ($11) won out, a plate full of meaty delights that included a couple of types of salamis plus coppa and mortadella, along with olives, pepperocini and artichoke hearts. This selection went quite nicely with a glass of 2009 Remo Farina Valpolicella ($9), a smooth easy-drinking red blend, and that classic Campari cocktail, the Negroni ($8).

For some vegetables after all that protein, the Insalata di Finocchio ($8), was a tasty departure from the usual salad. It had plenty of hefty slices of crunchy fennel root mixed with Parmigiano-Reggiano and mushrooms and dressed with a mild vinaigrette.

Just like the appetizer selections, the entree options were plentiful. Although there were plenty of fine items on the menu, it's almost impossible for us to go to an Italian place and not order up some pasta. In this case, the Rigatoni ai Funghi del Bosco ($19), filled the bill nicely. It had plenty of shittake, cremini and oyster mushrooms roasted with extra virgin olive oil, mixed in with the tender, tubular noodles. Though this dish seemed to be a fairly modest portion, the size was deceiving, as it was heavy and rich, and definitely weighty enough to satisfy even the heartiest appetite.

We lucked out and visited on a Thursday, which is ‘Risotto Day’ at Bar Italia. The Risotto ($23) du jour was a delectable seafood version replete with generous chunks of sweet lobster and plenty of small, tender bay scallops, along with spinach and red pepper and a profusion of garlic. The broth that resulted was savory, and not particularly heavy. Although we had more than enough food, some room was made for a taste of the strawberry Gelato ($6).

The restaurant was packed when we were there, and the front of the house was obviously under-staffed and really under the gun. Despite this, the quality of service at our table—though understandably slower than usual—never wavered. Our server never showed any strain, though he was running about a good deal. Fortunately, we were seated at a window, and the hustle and bustle of Maryland Plaza after dark provided plenty of diversions while we waited.

Bar Italia proved after all of these years, it's still a prime place to get some good Italian food and do some serious CWE people-watching.

Bar Italia, 13 Maryland Plaza, 361-7010,

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