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January 2003: Agrodolce

This youthful Italian trattoria buzzes with energy to spare. It has a creative regional-Italian menu, and the kitchen whips up daily specials—flights of fancy that keep things fresh even if they don't always work. Yellow walls with vivid murals make for a sunny backdrop; in good weather, tables are set up on the plaza outdoors.

Start with brittle fried squid or asparagus swathed with prosciutto and crusted with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Or dive into a thin-crusted pizza from the wood-burning oven. The inventive Cal-Ital pastas—farfalle with chicken, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and pancetta; sautéed shrimp with cannellini beans and radicchio sauce—can be split as starters or ordered as entrées. Some of the entrées, such as a savory veal scallopine with citrus-Marsala sauce and pistachios, are served over pasta as well. Among the interesting main courses: chicken with walnut-rum-cream sauce, green apples, and preserved ginger; rack of wild boar with pomegranate-balsamic reduction; wonderfully crisp duck confit with orange-star-anise glaze (get the pear-ginger chutney on the side); and salmon with lemon, capers, wilted spinach, and grilled polenta. The bold flavors beg for a simpler, sturdier bread than the focaccia in the basket, but the general exuberance overcomes the missteps. Highs on the dessert roster are a tiramisu in a clear glass coffee cup and the clever mousse-filled chocolate cigar.

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