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DAVID NELSON ON RESTAURANTS

Delmario's Sets Informal Mood and a Simple, Yet Elegant, Table

October 15, 1987|DAVID NELSON

Delmario's seems like such a reasonable name for an Italian restaurant that it can take awhile to recognize what actually is a coy tribute to Del Mar, the city that this casually upbeat new eatery calls home.

More an annex than an independent restaurant, Delmario's is the creation of Remington's, the bastion of Establishment Epicureanism that long has tantalized affluent North Countians with its immense lobsters, steaks and chops. Delmario's seems to have been born when a fairly large space became available in the same office development that houses Remington's, though the two places are physically separated.

Delmario's has a rather curious appearance, thanks to the maroon tablecloths, the round tables and black lacquered chairs, all of which recall a rather classy Chinese restaurant style of 1960s vintage. A mural of Venice stretched along a major canal runs the length of one wall, and it is a rather tottering, shabby Venice, painted in dark colors and vaguely reminiscent of the Bronx. All this adds up to an informal mood that matches the tone of the menu.

A Surprisingly Simple Approach

Delmario's takes a rather surprisingly (given its extravagant progenitor) downscale view of la cocina italiana , specializing in basic pastas teamed with basic sauces, and such familiar entrees as veal parmigiana and shrimp in garlic butter. The prices are in line with the simplicity of the approach, and at times even seem downright cheap (it is possible to spend all of $3.50 on a big plate of linguine tossed with garlic and butter). Remember, though, that this is the offspring of Remington's, and that by indulging in a full-scale meal and a bottle of wine the tab easily can shoot to $60 or more for a pair of diners.

The daily appetizer specials generally rise above the standing offerings, which include such commonplaces as fried mozzarella cubes and fried, breaded artichoke hearts. One especially likable special, a plate of lightly fried calamari, was dusted with a noticeable amount of minced garlic (not a typical seasoning for this dish, but very nice) and featured both rings cut from larger squid as well as calamaretti , the tiny, nutty-flavored specimens that one pops into the mouth whole.

A second special, tortellini in cream sauce ( alla panna would be the description used in Florence), borrowed the stuffing used in the standing menu's cannelloni and the basic cream sauce that can be had with a variety of pastas. The little dough packages, filled with a lightly textured, finely minced chicken stuffing, took on a certain gracefulness when drenched with the rich, Parmesan-accented sauce. Flecks of minced prosciutto ham gave the sauce an added flavor, but also made it quite salty.

Because the house green salad is both dull and a la carte, it is as well to look for vegetation in other forms. The most convenient of these is simply the complimentary bowls of giardinera, or mixed, freshly pickled vegetables, that the restaurant serves to each table. Another good choice is the breaded, fried eggplant--thin slices cut into delicate triangles that have a lovely flavor of their own and that by no means should be dipped into the accompanying tomato sauce.

Several Tomato Sauces

Delmario's makes several tomato sauces, but its basic version, which turns up on everything from the cannelloni to the veal parmigiana, is over-herbed and altogether too vibrant and vivid in flavor. Herbs should be demure, not overwhelming, and the problem would seem to be that this sauce not only contains basil (as it should), but also oregano, a pesky herb that really does not mate well with others and in any case should be used with the most exacting moderation.

This sauce is available on a mix-and-match basis with the diner's choice of angel hair, linguine, tagliarini and both plain and spinach fettuccine, as are a tomato-meat sauce, the cream sauce mentioned above, and pesto, the Genoese blend of olive oil, garlic, basil and nuts. Meatballs and Italian sausage can be ordered as optional garnishes.

Both the veal and the eggplant parmigiana were competently handled and served in generous quantity, if otherwise unremarkable. The better veal choice probably would be the veal saute, because it features the same expert picatta finish given to a fine cut of sea bass.

Described by the menu simply as "sea bass saute," the moist slab of fish actually underwent a rather pleasant treatment in which it was floured and crisped in butter, then finished with a deglazing sauce of lemon, butter, parsley and garlic. The sauce had a light but excellent body and a strong, definite flavor that mated happily with the bass.

Ambitious Effort

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