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Vibrant Food and Atmosphere at D'Amico's

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The second conclusion I came to after dinner at D'Amico's Italian Market Cafe is that "bustling" and "relaxing" aren't mutually exclusive descriptors for a restaurant environment. The first conclusion was that D'Amico's provides its patrons with painstakingly crafted Italian food and fastidious service at shockingly reasonable prices. But I knew that already.

I've flitted in and out of D'Amico's to try their terrific, stuffed homemade pastas but up until recently I had never lingered. Perhaps some of my hesitance to do so stemmed from the establishments's "market component," which I worried made the environment less suitable for a leisurely meal.

I was wrong. Indeed, on most nights D'Amico's packs a hearty, chatty crowd of diners that includes boisterous families, loquacious couples, and medium-size groups. And, because the dining room is small, space is at a premium, so you're likely to hear snippets of your neighbors' conversation and if you stand in one place too long, you're likely to be in someone's way. In the midst of what some might call "chaos" is some unseen font of soothing energy that makes you feel warm, assured, and completely confident all your needs will be met. You almost don't even need a glass of wine to forget that long day (though teetotaling means you miss out on trying some of their well-priced varietals).

Though tempted by the voluminous antipasto platter, my friend and I opted for the bruschetta and calamari. These starters are mainstays Italian cuisine and while seemingly straightforward in construction, are easy to screw up via less-than-fresh ingredients and ill-timed preparation. D'Amico's nails both, delivering evenly battered, well-seasoned squid that is fried just long enough to produce a crispy yet supple texture and oval toasts bursting with summer flavor thanks to fresh tomatoes, basil, and goat cheese.

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Although the appetizers were generous in portion, my friend (also a runner) and I were game to try multiple entrees. It took some willpower not to order one of the stuffed pastas to (especially the crawfish ravioli), but I resisted my own compulsive repetitive tendencies traditions and instead decided to share a Nash pizza, the chicken braciolentini, and the asparagus penne.

I generally prefer traditional red sauce and mozzarella pies and therefore was pleasantly surprised to find myself very much enjoying the Nash pizza layered with pesto, chicken, and artichokes with a pleasurable faint piquant note thanks to a spritz of lemon juice. It was a filling yet light main course that was perfect for summer. The asparagus penne was similarly refreshing, combining al dente ribbed noodles, sweet tomatoes, diced asparagus, and garlic.

If there had to be a winner in the entree competition, however, the chicken braciolentini would secure the top prize. Although its rich components make it rather unorthodox summer fare, I couldn't help keep returning for forkfuls of the seared chicken stuffed with spicy sausage and spinach. The accompanying lemon brown butter sauce imbued the already juicy poultry with a lovely fatty savoriness as well as provided a medium for dipping slices of the complimentary Italian bread.

Like most customers at D'Amico's that evening, my dining companion and I spoke in tones far above a whisper but our and others' boisterous chatter made the dining room seem like one giant family party. Except missing was the undercurrent of stress that often runs in get-togethers with real family and in its place great food and the delicious knowledge you don't have to do the dishes.

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