Vicino: neighborhood flavor

Aug. 17, 2004, midnight | By Anuja Shah | 15 years, 5 months ago

Despite the glitzy new sit-down cafés and unabashedly yuppie bistros of downtown Silver Spring a few blocks away, Vicino Ristorante Italiano caters to old-world appetites with well-portioned authenticism.

The building itself is nestled between a preparatory school and a small cluster of auto-repair shops, and though it's been there for what locals swear have been twenty years or more, it's outwardly unassuming, the sort of place you'd have to be searching for to find. But it's worth looking out for, if not looking at.

True, the décor is simple; a handful of paintings in mismatched styles dress the otherwise bare white walls, and the clear plastic tablecloths and fake flowers seem tacky at best. But if you're an aesthete, go downtown. If you want class where it counts, enjoy a meal here.

The first of many things that sets Vicino apart from `Americanized' Italian dining is flavor; food here is cooked with a concentration of taste. The fresh garlic and basil infused olive oil, a far cry from any plain olive oil, makes an effective appetizer atop hearty bread. Sauces of varying pungency are splashed with herbal undertones. The meat is well-marinated, savory, and moist.

The antipasto best captures the variety offered at Vicino . The surprisingly filling appetizer offers both vegetarian and non-veg selections on one plate, ranging from traditional tomato and mozzarella to thinly sliced, salt-cured prosciutto with a hint of cloves. Also included are florets of cauliflower and slices of carrot in a tangy vinaigrette, tender anchovy fillets, and moist chunks of tuna steak, all atop a bed of lettuce. Although main-course offerings appear to be limited to simple pasta and pizza, the selections are not as inhibiting as they might seem. Especially conductive to variety is the fact that all pastas are served with a choice of three sauces: marinara, pesto, or cream.

Portabella ravioli is an interesting spin on an old favorite, and a safe option for the unadventurous. The perfectly square dumplings are stuffed with chewy, almost indiscernibly earthy mushrooms, and best paired with an equally mild (but unnecessarily milky) cream sauce. By contrast, the spinach rolls—ovals of finely chopped, textured fresh spinach layered with smooth lasagna pasta—are, despite (or thanks to) their soothing taste, most refreshingly matched with the zesty crushed-basil and butter pesto sauce.

The shrimp marinara features enticingly meaty shrimp atop a bed of applaudably al-dente linguine. The sauce, however, is quite unexpectedly robust; the roasted warm chunks of fleshy tomato give it a garden-fresh texture, but taste as though they have been cooked with wine that never completely boiled off, lending the sauce a confusing and indiscriminately stiff pungency. Fortunately, the marinara smothering the chicken cacciatore is more than redeeming. The tomato-based sauce veritably bursts with a garden of flavors: translucent threads of sautéed onion, roasted, sliced mushroom, grilled cubes of green pepper, and firm chunks of ripe tomato spill in delectable excess over half a fresh chicken, expertly marinated to full flavor, and moist despite being fully-cooked. It's not even a hassle to pull the pliable, supple meat off the bone, although if it were, the struggle would be fully justified.

If you're not already stuffed from the appetizer and colossal meal alone a slice of Tiramisu, whose nutmeggy ricotta cheese is layered with spongy, sugary cookies, is the classic option. However, Vicino also offers two different kinds of Italian ice cream—tartufo and spumoni—in addition to cannoli.

The recorded music is infrequently punctuated by the ringing of a phone in plain view and earshot of customers, the wainscoting may not evoke a sense of luxury, and the salt shakers aren't always full. If it's all-out perfection you're looking for, take your patronage somewhere else. If you'd rather have a filling, fittingly flavorful Italian meal—the kind Vicinos was built to serve—then this is as good a place as any, and far better in many ways.

Vicinos is located at 959 Sligo Avenue, three blocks from the heart of downtown Silver Spring. Reservations are not required, but the restaurant can be quite busy during peak hours, and there may not be ample parallel-parking spots. Vicinos is open during the following hours:

Monday 11:30 am - 9:30 pm
Tuesday - Thursday 11:30 am - 10:00 pm
Friday 11:30 am - 10:30 pm
Saturday 12:30 pm - 10:30 pm
Sunday 1:00 pm - 9:30 pm

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Anuja Shah. Anuja "Otto" Shah, a Junior in the CAP, -is thoroughly excited to be part of SCO, -enjoys the word "fiasco", -aspires to be monstrously cool, -remains prepared to settle for being vaguely nifty, and -probably owes you money, but has fled the country. More »

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