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April 2004 Teatro Goldoni

At lunch and dinner, chef Fabrizio Aielli’s culinary bargains are available only to patrons seated on the comfortable stools at Teatro Goldoni’s long, handsome bar.

At lunch and dinner, chef Fabrizio Aielli's culinary bargains are available only to patrons seated on the comfortable stools at Teatro Goldoni's long, handsome bar.

The bar menu at lunch, where all dishes are priced at $12.50 and include a generous glass of red or white wine, is the better value.

A twosome lunching at the bar might share one of the pastas as a first course. Good choices include rigatoni with wonderfully light, miniature meatballs simmered in tomato sauce and a refined interpretation of spaghetti alla carbonara, a famous regional specialty of Rome. The eggs in the original are not in evidence in Fabrizio Aielli's version, which is luxuriously creamy but begs to be generously peppered and sprinkled with grated cheese.

Teatro Goldoni partly owes its fine reputation to plates of impeccably fried seafoods. That reputation is upheld on the bar menu by the Crispy Calamari, an abundant serving of fresh squid with a lacy, virtually fat-free crust. A squeeze of lemon is the only condiment required, but the squid is equally well complemented by sauceboats holding a spicy tomato sauce and a classic tartar sauce.

Two items on Teatro Goldoni's $12.50 lunchtime bar menu are remarkable values. A plate of grilled salmon might lead diners familiar with the high cost of fresh seafood to suspect a misprint. But here is an attractive portion of grill-marked, wonderfully moist fish garnished with a sheaf of lightly dressed leaves of baby lettuces. Good as the salmon is, the star is a plate of veal scallopine with mushrooms. The scallops are glazed with a reduction of veal stock, heaped with smoky European and Asian mushrooms, and garnished with an airy potato purée.

The only disappointment among the bar menu's main courses was a chicken breast milanese, pounded thin, crusted with bread crumbs, and thoroughly dried out.

The wines-by-the-glass included in the price of every dish seem to be poured according to the whim of the bartender. When they are good, which is more often than not—and as was the case with a Palio Chianti—they taste like the $8 that they cost when they are not part of the lunchtime package deal.

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