Adriano Ristorante in Santa Ana gives a feeling of warmth and sureness the moment you enter. And the waitress was not too far off when she claimed, "Everything we serve is wonderful," and, she could add, a good value.
Janina Musci, owner and hostess, sets the tone with her friendly greeting, her inquiry: "Is this your first time here? How did you hear about us?" And on my second visit, she said, "Nice to see you again." You can sense the teamwork in this restaurant, where service is friendly and attentive. (Yes, they could and did time dinner so we'd get to the not-too-distant Performing Arts Center on time.)
In addition, Adriano, hidden away in the Target shopping center, looks pretty, with its pink lace curtains, burgundy carpet, chairs and canopies over the espresso bar and kitchen opening. Pastel murals of the Italian countryside soften the walls, and fresh flowers brighten cloth-covered tables.
Almost everything we tried from the regular menu was good, though I'd mark down the calzone, which was slightly burned. But the samplings from the day's specials were special. (Chef Tony Musci, Janina's husband, was born in Bari on the Adriatic coast of Italy, but he creates both northern and southern cuisine.) Clams with linguine starred fresh steamers, tender and sweet; the sauce was flavorful with broth, plus a pleasant hotness and a hint of Pernod.
Fresh salmon, sauteed and served with fresh tomatoes, capers, green onions and a touch of rosemary, made such a hit with our resident 10-year-old gourmet that he was reluctant to give the rest of us a sample. A fork easily cut the veal medallions, delectably crowned with baby asparagus, pimiento and mushrooms. Rigatoni with a delicate cream sauce enhanced both dishes.
Other popular specials include a Milanese-style osso buco, fettuccine with scampi in a creamy sauce and a lightly breaded boneless chicken breast topped with fresh spinach, provolone cheese and a light mushroom-wine sauce.
The house salad is crisp and fresh, if not remarkable, but the insalata Adriano, brimming with romaine, artichokes, mozzarella, mushrooms and black olives, is almost a meal.
There is a lot more to consider on Adriano's menu, from some 20 pastas (including two gnocchi dishes) to homemade sausage in wine and tomato sauce, 11 different pizzas and the more predictable chicken and veal dishes.
Prices top out at $16.95 for dinners, which include salad or soup (a comforting chicken with tortellini on both my visits). Hot, crusty rolls can't compete with Tony's own focaccia, which proved addictive for our children and myself.
Of the desserts, which include a respectable cheese cake, only the tiramisu is homemade. It's served pudding style, heavy on the Amaretto, and arrived at the table frozen. As it thawed, the flavors balanced better.
A better choice to top off dinner, I think, is a frothy cappuccino, available decaffeinated, nicely topped with chocolate and cinnamon, served with a crisp wafer.
At lunchtime, specials of fresh pasta, veal, chicken and fresh seafood, $7.95 to $10.95, supplement the regular menu. There's a small wine list with Pinot Grigio and Chianti available by the glass.
Tony and Janina, who were partners in D'Angelo's in Laguna Hills, opened Adriano Ristorante a year ago. A few months ago they doubled its size--obviously a wise move, because they had a full house the Thursday I was there.
Adriano Ristorante, 3314 S. Bristol, Santa Ana; (714) 957-6909. Open for lunch Tuesday-Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 10 p.m.; Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m. Closed Mondays. Lot parking. Reservations, lunch and dinner. Accepts MasterCard, Visa, American Express.