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Everyone has a favorite Italian restaurant. Ask and they'll tell you about it.

In Menlo Park, California, there is a restaurant called Dal Baffo, which means "of the mustache." The owner's name is Vincenzo Lo Grasso, and his food is the closest thing to perfection I've ever eaten. And he is incredibly gracious. Ten years ago, I was up at Stanford to have some surgery and the entire time I stayed at the hospital, Vincenzo fixed me light and gentle dinners to eat during my recovery and had them delivered to my room. (878 Santa Cruz Ave.; 650-325-1588)
Vincent Schiavelli, actor (AMERICAN SAINT) and author (BRUCULINU, AMERICA)


I go all the time to this little place around the corner from me in New York, Paul & Jimmy's. It's not one of those trendy places; it's been there forever. I know I'm going to get a nice melon and prosciutto, I love my baked clams, and they have the best eggplant rollatini. I'm addicted to it. (123 E. 18th St.; 212-475-9540)
Aida Turturro, actress (THE SOPRANOS)


The sign outside Panzanella in Seattle says bread and philosophy, because people hang out there and just eat and chat. It's a small cafe with sandwiches and light food, but on Wednesdays you can arrange a full meal. I did it once, and the owner's mother had just arrived from Italy bringing anchovies and olives she had put up herself. There were peonies on the table, and she took one of the branches of greens out of the vase, dipped it in water, sprinkled it on us and blessed us. (1314 E. Union St.; 206-325-5217)
Carol Field, author (IN NONNA'S KITCHEN)


I hate to tell anybody about the restaurants I like because then everybody will go there, but Steps of Rome is already so popular, I guess it won't make any difference. The pasta is better than the pasta in most of the restaurants in San Francisco even though the place is a little cafe. The only thing I eat there is a dish called Spaghetti Steps. It's garlic, olive oil, pimiento and pasta. That's it. No tomatoes! I hate tomatoes on pasta! It's the liveliest cafe in North Beach. The people who work there are fresh from Italy, and I mean fresh. They specialize in good-looking young waitresses. (348 Columbus Ave.; 415-397-0435)
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and founder of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco


This place in the North End of Boston called Daily Catch serves squid-ink pasta that is so good! It's like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: You can just see this giant squid giving its lifeblood so they could make this pasta. Their fried calamari has the kind of texture that teeth were invented to penetrate. And the chef is this hipped-out Vietnamese guy who watched us eat--I loved that! He did it covertly, but he obviously really cared about how we reacted to the food. (323 Hanover St.; 617-523-8567)
Jim Leff, restaurant critic and founder of chowhound.com


I like Biba in Sacramento, California. Biba Caggiano, the chef and owner, is very Bolognese--very open and warm. And her food is just like what you'd have in Bologna-- it's rich but never heavy. She does delicious pappardelle and a great osso buco. (2801 Capitol Ave.; 916-455-2422)
Giuliano Hazan, author (EVERY NIGHT ITALIAN)


There's a new restaurant in Nyack, New York, called Lanterna that's run by a chef from Lucca, Italy, named Rossano Giannini. There's this one salad he does where he makes a basket out of Parmesan cheese, and inside that he puts salad greens. Around it he has cheeses, chopped tomato with garlic, and excellent olive oil. Then on top of that it has pieces of prosciutto. Giannini's food has a lot of modern Italian style. He's got this way of sticking to genuine ingredients but making them into something very imaginative. (3 S. Broadway; 914-353-8361)
Julia Della Croce, author (THE VEGETARIAN TABLE: ITALY)


Genoa in Portland, Oregon, is the best Italian restaurant in the United States. It's very authentic and earthy. They serve real Italian food with no compromises to please American tastes. I ate wonderful fresh pasta--light, soft, tender, melt in your mouth. It's a real Italian trattoria, not the kind of place where everybody looks at the decor and forgets the food. Decor does not impress me at all. Actually, it makes me wonder: What's the problem with the food here? (2832 S.E. Belmont St.; 503-238-1464)
Giuliano Bugialli, author (BUGIALLI ON PASTA)

Published October 2000
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