Panino is truly family owned and run: Chef Louis Patierno, an alumnus of DC's long-gone Tiberio, tends the kitchen, while his wife, Lydia, greets diners by name and often with a hug. A long mirror on one long wall reflects colors of food and flowers. The written menu is short–nine appetizers, four pastas, and eight main courses–but an almost equal number of daily specials is offered.
Good appetizers are the baby mussels with marinara sauce; marinated, thinly sliced portobello mushrooms; fried calamari; and snails with parsley, butter, and garlic. For a pasta course, consider the cheese tortellini with a cream-tomato sauce, linguine with a white clam sauce, or rigatoni with meat sauce. Main courses include beef-tenderloin medallions with mushroom sauce, a simple filet of sole with a lemon sauce, and a mixed grill of quail, sausage, and a lamb chop. House-made bread and pastries are excellent.
One of the recent specials, a green-noodle lasagna with mushrooms, was overcooked. But the more serious surprise came with the bill: The price of the dish was $22.50.
The wine selection is good, but the list omits vintages. Several wines are $20 and under, and there's a bargain in the upper range–a 1996 Schiavenza Barolo for $52.
Panino, 9116 Mathis Ave., Manassas; 703-335-2566. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner.