There is an odd little dessert called "the telescope" at Galileo, the well-established Italian restaurant in Poway.
It consists of a dish of whipped cream stuck at intervals with tube-shaped wafers, and the effect is that of a model space ship from a 1950s sci-fi flick. Its design might have amused the 16th-Century astronomer for whom the restaurant is named, and to whom the sweet pays tribute, but serious dessert-eaters might prefer a slice of the creamy rum cake baked in the restaurant's own retail bakery.
The rest of the menu at this 13-year-old landmark is safely and solidly in the traditional Italian mood, as is the subdued decor, which maintains the charming but largely discarded custom of painting the names of the various dining rooms on the lintels. Strings of tiny lights embedded in the black-painted ceiling suggest the stars at which Galileo gazed so earnestly.
The menu utterly avoids all the blandishments of faddish, contemporary Italian cuisine, and is so representative of old-style cooking that Galileo himself would recognize such dishes as the batter-crisped shrimp in a sauce of wine butter and mushrooms, the veal with prosciutto and spinach and the linguine in white clam sauce. (The pastas in tomato sauce would have been revolutionary in Galileo's day, because tomatoes, a New World fruit, were viewed as poisonous long after their introduction to Europe and only came into fashion in the 18th Century.)
The dinner menu ranges across five pages, and since an opening note explains that meals include soup, salad, freshly baked rolls (tender-crusted, yeasty orbs, to be exact) and a choice of vegetable or pasta side dish, the appetizer list seems somewhat redundant. Still, there is an entry here that makes a nice shared nibble while reading the menu, an Italian-style shrimp cocktail that offers four large specimens with a sauce of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and parsley--and, as you suddenly notice after two or three tastes, a good bit of red pepper.
The soups change daily and seem well made; one night's agreeable blend of onion and cabbage suspended in beef stock was succeeded by a workmanlike cream of broccoli. The salad, given the times, seems remarkably simple, but consists of crisp, good quality greens.
Most entree categories include a house creation or two. Among the chicken offerings, this would be the pollo Pasquale, a breast stuffed with bacon, peppers, cheese and onions. The more traditional chicken Marsala was a good example of how simmering a bird in butter, wine and brown sauce can produce a juicy, savory result.
The various shrimp and fish offerings of the seafood list are summed up in the cioppino , tomato-based stew that also includes clams and crab. Crab is used almost as a seasoning at Galileo, and repeatedly turns up in a supporting role, of which one of the better is in the fettuccine Giovanni. This immense plate of pasta, soaked with a notably delicate cream sauce thickly enriched with shredded crab and chopped shrimp, has quite a nice flavor.
The simplest pasta, spaghettini dressed with olive oil and garlic, recalls an antique recipe. More modern offerings include fettuccine Carbonara (with eggs, bacon and onion); pasta in pesto ; pasta with a smooth, simple tomato sauce or with all-American meat balls, and a cannelloni-manicotti version that requires the appetite of a trencherman and is, frankly, rather heavy.
The kitchen cooks veal with a light hand and offers most of the typical choices, including scallops in piccata , pizzaiola and parmigiana versions. The medallions alla Galileo are a pleasant, carefully cooked house variation on the usual veal in wine-butter sauce, and arrive steaming under coverlets of sliced mushrooms and Fontina cheese.
12440 Poway Road, Poway
Hours: Lunch served Monday through Friday, dinner nightly
Cost: Entrees priced from $7.95 to $16.95. Dinner for two, including a glass of wine each, tax and tip, about $30 to $60. Credit cards accepted.