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Three Thumbs Up

Ravioli's makes a hit with an all-ages crowd

By Andrew X. Pham

WHAT DO YOU DO when your brother straddles you with a mini-van-load of his beloved brats? To top that off, he tells you: "Feed 'em, but don't take 'em to any place with a built-in playground." Foolish bachelor that I am, I tried impressing them with duck pâté and butter almond trout, but halfway through the meal they were screaming ravioli and meaning Chef Boy Ardee.

Disaster pending, my friend, Stephanie, who was good enough to help me baby-sit the monsters, suggested we try Ravioli's, a restaurant that recently put out a "new and improved casual gourmet" menu. So, I parked the mini-mob at Ravioli's, and found the place packed with as many adults as children.

Ravioli's has reinvented its flagship franchise restaurant as a budget gourmet pasta destination. Although it doesn't serve beer and wine, it boasts a list of smartly devised raviolis, featuring fillings such as blackened shark, carne asada and roasted chicken with artichoke. With nothing priced over $6.50 and most items ranging between $4.50 and $5.50, Ravioli's menu is perfectly designed for adult diners with kids in tow. In addition, daily specials often include half servings of pasta, a side salad and a soda for around $4.

James, 5 years old, zoomed into his spaghetti and meat balls ($4.45). Seven-year-old Emily-Rose ordered a spicy penne puttanesca ($4.95), which was smothered in a marinara sauce rich with capers, olives, diced onion and hot peppers. Vivian, 8, queen of this sandlot gang, crafted her own dish by ordering an ordinary spaghetti ($3.50) and crowning it with grilled chicken ($1.25).

Judging from the samples I finessed off their plates, the pastas were deftly cooked. Though Ravioli's won't rival a three-star trattoria, it's certainly superior to a number of popular restaurants I could name.

Stephanie enjoyed a Thai chicken ravioli ($6.25), which had a subtle touch of ginger that went surprisingly well with the accompanying chunky peanut sauce. Topped with chopped cilantro, this dish was good enough to sneak home. My smoked salmon ravioli in pesto alfredo sauce ($6.25) was rather fetching and made me wish for a glass of vino.

Service is excellent, friendly and tolerant of children. The restaurant is clean and comfortable--and on top of everything else, free refills of fountain drinks definitely make this place a choice spot for parents.

The verdict is in for Ravioli's: three precocious thumbs up.

Ravioli's is located at 5293-C Prospect Road, Saratoga (408/253-5232).

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From the Sept. 25-Oct. 1, 1997 issue of Metro.

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