Paul Manno's

Paul Manno's is one of those restaurants that has been quietly serving up quality food with little fanfare, while at the same time, attracting lots of diners. The eatery recently surfaced on our radar, thanks to some recommendations from fans, and we headed west to give it a try.

Say what you will about restaurants in strip malls (and we've said plenty ourselves) but Paul Manno's location was centrally located, easy to find and had plenty of parking. The exterior was nondescript, but once you step inside, you know you're in for a classic Italian dining experience. The dining room was dark, the tablecloths a pristine white, and most of the walls featured a photo, painting or some other representation of Frank Sinatra (and Ol' Blue Eyes' tunes played continuously on the sound system). While the overall vibe at Paul Manno's was fairly upscale, the ambiance definitely never became stodgy or stuffy. Rather, it was elegant yet comfortable, definitely a fine location for a casual dinner or a more formal celebratory feast.

The menu had all the Italian classics one could hope for, like the Calamari Fritti ($11), a heaping plate of thick, lightly-battered squid rings served up with some sweet tomato sauce on the side and a squeeze of lemon. Size-wise, this dish almost crossed into entree territory! Likewise, the Insalata Di Paolo ($9) was a hearty helping of greens interspersed with copious amounts of Volpi salami and bits of soft mozzarella—a simple, well-done and tasty house salad.

While there was an assortment of pastas on the menu, we decided to veer away from our usual Italian favorites and explore some of the other delicacies Manno's had to offer. The Rack of Lamb ($31) was touted as a house specialty—and for good reason. The dish consisted of some of the juiciest lamb we've had recently, cooked perfectly rare, and served with lemon, capers and olive oil. The salty tang of the lemon and capers accentuated the tender, delicate meat wonderfully. Our love of scallops is well-known, and the Cappesante Al Portobello ($25) certainly lived up to our high expectations. The plate had three plump, seared diver sea scallops in a rich, decadent sherry cream sauce with slivers of tender portobello mushroom. Our only gripe: the sides. Each of our entrees came with a choice of vegetables, and we went with spinach and green beans. Both came smothered in cheese and red sauce, effectively masking any flavor inherent in the vegetables. It would have been much preferable to have these served sans the sauce.

To finish up, the Limoncello Tiramusu ($8), was a nice twist on the classic with the requisite ladyfingers soaked in the sweet lemon liqueur.

Paul Manno's was proof-positive that there's plenty of fine Italian food to be had in West County. --Paul Manno's, 75 Forum Center, 878-1274

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