Dining Out: Varano's Italian Restaurant

By: Rachel Forrest

Varano's is indeed a cozy spot. While the dining room is large and open, the dark wood and friendly staff bring a warmth to the place that makes you feel good, just as Italian food always does. The menu here is large with many pasta dishes of course, but also less carbo-loaded fare in veal, chicken and plenty of fish dishes as well. We started with something I always order when it's on a menu, clams casino, the seven clams plump and fresh, embedded in garlicky bread crumbs, peppers and crisp, smoky bacon ($10.95). Although I make it differently at home - no breadcrumbs - I liked their version too. The minestrone soup was a meal in itself, thick and rich with tomato, carrots and pasta ($5.95), good for scooping up in the crisply grilled chunks of Tuscan bread we got with a dish of fluffy Parmesan, garlic and olive oil to dip it in. It's tough to decide what to have from the huge menu, but since most entrees come with sides of pasta, you get to try all sorts of dishes in one swoop. I ordered the veal Bracciolettine, thin slices of veal rolled with a nicely salty prosciutto, spinach and mozzarella with many tender fresh mushrooms in a Marsala sauce that could have used more pizzazz, but was mellow and smooth ($22.95). The filling was very good, but could have used more gooey mozzarella, although the mild sauce created a good taste mix with the mushrooms. My side of penne with marinara was nicely cooked and I also got a side of meatballs, which were fluffy and spiced nicely, resting in their tasty marinara ($5.95). I thought the price was a bit high for two meatballs, however. Andy ordered a special, the lobster fra diavolo a huge portion of fettucine tossed with tomatoes, green olives and lobster meat knuckles and claws ($26.95). The sauce was plenty spicy as a good fra diavolo should be and there was plenty to take home. He got a side of large, juicy Italian sausage as well, which tasted great the next day for my breakfast ($6.95). The wine list is interesting here since every wine is from Italy. It's a large list so there's much to choose from, even a few bottles at a whopping $450. Have some of that Super Tuscan with your lasagna, huh? Most of the wines are more within regular folks' budgets and are very good. Our waitress, Maree, was adept at recommending dishes and wines and her professionalism was evident. Desserts are decadent. The tiramisu is made in house and was delicious with feather-light lady fingers and creamy custard, while a zabaglione was pure cream heaven with sweet soaked strawberries. And now we all have to wait until the end of January to enjoy another season of tasty Italian food in a setting just made for families and friends. I'll remind you when it opens again, don't worry.