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Italian Comfortable

Christopher Gardner

Comfort Station: Guido's Ristorante offers good food, good portions and good prices.

Holding down one end of Campbell's Pruneyard, Guido's specializes in well-made Italian food and alfresco charm

By Christina Waters

IF I WORKED ANYWHERE NEAR the Pruneyard, I think Guido's Ristorante might become one of my favorite dining spots. Not only does this shopping-complex landmark serve breakfast every day, but it does sensuous Italian comfort foods--all those luscious manicottis, lasagnes, pizzas, fettuccines--at lunch and dinnertime. Throw in an inviting outdoor patio, thriving carry-out pizza action and, of course, the very convenient location, and you have, well, exactly what Guido's has become--a haven for those with healthy and discerning appetites.

It's been way too long since I spied calamari vinaigrette ($5.75) on a menu, I thought, scanning Guido's appetizers. My companion, the notoriously picky Candice, had already zeroed in on a fusilli Genovese special that offered the intriguing possibility of potatoes and other fresh vegetables as toppings ($9.95). I'm not sure how I resisted all those ravioli and tortellini dishes--each available with a choice of marinara, meat, alfredo or pesto sauce--but I ordered a small pizza topped with feta, ham and fresh basil ($8.95), and sat back to sip my hefty goblet of the house Chianti from Ruffino ($4.50).

As my cup of minestrone soup ($1.75) arrived along with Candice's small green dinner salad, the last rays of the sun slanted through trees and umbrellas to our table on Guido's side terrace. Thank God not every place is hell-bent on making a high-powered designer statement. Sometimes you just need fine flavors, nurturing presentation, good food. And we'd come to the right place.

I enjoyed my homemade soup, long on carrots and pasta, and Candice liked the house dressing--half vinaigrette, half blue cheese--on her simple lettuce salad. But the meal really got under way for me with a very pretty plate of tender calamari morsels, glistening in lemony olive oil and dusted with fat capers and black olives. "Look at all the artichoke hearts," Candice observed, devouring two or three thumb-sized morsels with alarming speed. But it was the tender calamari I was after, sweet and expertly marinated, and generously adorned with thin slices of lemon--really one of the treasures of the Italian seafood repertoire that deserves a bigger spotlight on more menus.

We were still messing around with our appetizer when our waitress returned with a) my pizza, positively loaded with bite-sized bits of baked ham, crumbled feta cheese and a dusting of fresh, aromatic basil; and b) the evening special fusilli, with a lovely cloud of fresh vegetables that sat like summer greenery atop the al dente corkscrews. "What a very green presentation," Candice murmured, clearly enjoying the fresh peas, julienned zucchini, potatoes and green beans all gathered at full ripeness and topping the garlic-infused pasta. Candice even offered her ultimate tribute--"I'd come back for this dish."

And I had to agree. My pizza--which of course Candice sampled--was done the way I love it. A thick-but-not-heavy crust--none of this thin, barely present, cardboard stuff. A very light layer of rich tomato sauce under the cheese and ham. Pizza the way God intended it.

Since we had to try dessert, we got the remaining pasta and pizza packed up to go and went about the pleasant chore of choosing something sweet to end our meal. I recklessly ordered an Amaretto coffee made with decaf ($4), and was presented with a tall glass of strong coffee, laced with the almond liqueur and topped with a stiff swirl of real whipped cream. All by itself, it could easily have made a terrific dessert. Guido's homemade tiramisu ($4.95)--traditional decadence from the days before crème brûlée ruled--was luscious with Mascarpone and cake soaked with coffee liqueur and Marsala.

Candice, who'd ordered a very dense, almost cloying layering of fudge and cream cheese topped with chocolate frosting ($4.75), called unaccountably "Windmill Cake" (it should have been called "chocolate overload"), preferred my tiramisu. Candice has always showed good culinary sense.

Guido's Ristorante

Address: The Pruneyard, Campbell and Bascom avenues, Campbell
Phone: 408/377-7713
Hours: Mon.­Thu., 7am­10pm; Fri 7am­11pm; Sat 8am­11pm; Sun 8am­10pm.
Cuisine: Italian, with classic American breakfasts
Ambiance: California trattoria
Service: Excellent
Price: inexpensive to moderate
Extras: Sports bar, Sunday champagne brunch

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From the September 26-October 2, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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