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Feb. 6, 2007

Check out Cesco

by Priyanka Gokhale, Online Editor-in-Chief
Almost every major street in downtown Bethesda is dotted with one or two Italian restaurants aiming to distinguish themselves from the rest with unique flourishes and affectations. From the minute you step into Cesco to the second you leave, this trattoria will make you feel like royalty, if only for one night.

Cesco's special touches are evident from the beginning of the night. Inside, the restaurant is decorated like a posh Italian villa, with muted beige walls, soft, romantic lighting and white flowers in glass vases. About twenty five tables covered in bright white tablecloths fill the spacious main room, with plenty of space between tables to give diners privacy while eating and a large bar with a collection of sparkling glasses that hang from the ceiling in ordered rows.

After seating patrons, waiters bring about small dishes of frittata, the Italian take on an omelet. The frittata, which is packed with the flavors of eggs and peppers, is delicious alone or with the tomato sauce that accompanies it. Along with the frittata comes a basket with a collection of delicious breads and breadsticks. And while it is tempting to ask for a refill of the bread basket, exercise self-control — the food only gets better.

Try the spicy but satisfying penne arrabbiatta and add a little zest to your meal.
<i>Picture courtesy of www.e-rcps.com</i>
Try the spicy but satisfying penne arrabbiatta and add a little zest to your meal. Picture courtesy of www.e-rcps.com

For the main dishes, Cesco offers a mix of old favorites and new delights. The restaurant makes the majority of its pastas fresh from scratch daily, so they have an extra touch of flavor. Try the capellini pomodoro, an Italian classic made with angel-hair pasta and cherry tomatoes, punctuated with the flavors of basil and black pepper. The dish is extremely tasty and is a more flavorful alternative to the classic spaghetti (which, let it be noted, appears nowhere on the menu). Another main dish to try is the penne arrabbiata, which translates to "angry pasta" in Italian, due to the abundance of red peppers in the tomato sauce. Though the sauce's fire is tempered by the pasta shells, those without a capacity for spicy food might want to shy away from this one. These two entrees are $11.95 and $12.95, respectively, and come in portions large enough to share.

Another tasty entrée is the cappellacci, a collection of a dozen filled pasta shells for $14.50. Fans of the herb rosemary will love its appearance in this dish, where it enlivens the pasta filling and adds fragrance to the meal. Though the shells seemed a little gummy and undercooked, the flavors in the ricotta cheese and spinach filling made up for any lack of goodness in the shells.

But the "piece de resistance" at Cesco isn't a pasta dish; it's the vendure griglia, a plate of grilled vegetables. The dish comes out from the oven smoking hot and fills the air with scents that will make you reminisce about summer nights on the deck with a barbecue grill. The vegetables include peppers, zucchini and cabbage, and they are each grilled perfectly – with crispy outsides and juicy, tender insides. At only $6, the vendure griglia should be a staple at every table.

After dinner, take a bite out of some creamy chocolate gelato.
<i>Photo courtesy of www.gothamist.com</i>
After dinner, take a bite out of some creamy chocolate gelato. Photo courtesy of www.gothamist.com

After the main course, no matter how full you are, be certain to leave room for some dessert. Since Cesco specializes in cooking from southern Italy, the dessert offerings might be different from those at your typical Italian restaurant. The zuccotto, a moist sponge cake filled with light chocolate cream and heavy vanilla cream dotted with chocolate chips, is a delight. The cake is presented beautifully on a large plate with a drizzle of strawberry sauce and a sliced strawberry on the side. Also try the gelato, a light Italian ice cream, which comes in vanilla, chocolate or hazelnut. Desserts are each $7, pricey for the small portions but well worth it.

Since food alone does not make a dining experience enjoyable, Cesco also pays attention to small details. The waiters are polite and friendly, and food is served almost immediately after being ordered. The ambient music – sounds of famous Italian performers – also adds to the diner's enjoyment. The restaurant exudes an atmosphere of casual elegance, and makes all patrons feel at home.

So, if you have a special event coming up, or if you just want to make an ordinary night special, head out to Cesco trattoria for an evening of dining in style.

The Cesco Trattoria is located on 4871 Cordell Ave., in Bethesda. For timings and reservations, call (301) 654-8333.



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