Hot Stuff

The name's Italian, but that's not all that stokes Fiamma's flame

An appetizer found on the lunch menu is a perfect example of such continent-straddling fare: patate pazzo is a gussied up, trendy Euro-version of the potato pancakes fried in butter on top of an onion slice that I grew up eating. This rendition is garlicky, tenderly crisped and browned. Its crusty outside yields with a barely noticeable crunch when you bite into it. The inside of the pancake is comfortingly mushy and grainy. Wilted greens, rails of sweet grilled red pepper and mounds of soft, sour goat cheese make up the bed on which these little patties come to rest -- and become the vehicle by which this dish transcends the kitchens of Italian moms and enters the realm of New Cuisine. Exemplary. And, with a glass of crisp pinot grigio, a perfect lunch.

Lewis has a flair for invention that even spills over to the dessert tray. I passed up the ubiquitous tiramisu and creme brulee for the singular-sounding lemon chiffon ravioli. Sure enough, it was pasta: two sunshine-colored triangular pillows in a shallow pool of blood-hued raspberry sauce were pumped with a cloud of sweet stuff that was so fluffy it seemed almost wimpy in contrast to the dish's dramatic colors. This creation is a strong tribute to whomever first realized that lemon and raspberry would bring out the best in each other. And it's a testimony to what can happen when creative license is allowed to transform the ordinary.

Fiamma, 8503 Westheimer, 787-9399.

pumpkin lasagna, $9;
patate pazzo, $5.50;
tandoori chicken pizza, $8.50.

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