If you're looking for an intimate spot for a romantic dinner or a place to talk business, Damiano probably isn't for you. It's a 225-seat restaurant that somehow seems even larger on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, when there's a guy in the bar singing hokey lounge tunes.
Windows along two walls — that most rare of South Florida restaurant commodities — give Damiano an even bigger feel. The combination of dark, coral banquettes, white chairs, whirly lighting fixtures, wooden floors and table tops give the dining room a modern, eclectic feel. The open kitchen and pizza lend Damiano a working vibe.
At 6,000 square feet, it's not some meek bistro, but a big, noisy, bustling spot that serves pasta, pizza and every classic Italian-American iteration of veal, chicken and seafood you can imagine. Piccata, marinara, parmigiana, cacciatore — you name it. It takes a chef of Peter Masiello's skill to hold this all together without falling into predictable red-sauce-Italian category. He's worked at both Prime in Delray Beach and Bova Ristorante in Boca Raton. Entree prices hover around $25, pasta is well under $20 and 12-inch round pizzas cost $12. Portions are so generous that each of us brought home leftovers for lunch.
We started with Damiano meatballs ($9), which our waiter recognized weren't quite hot enough as he was dividing them between the four of us. He took them back to the kitchen for a reheat. Despite the moderate prices — by Boca Italian restaurant standard — service is Old World laid-back. Our waiter gladly divided our appetizers, but never asked that we watch the show.
The meatballs, by the way, are simple but tasty, topped with ricotta and marinara. Likewise, lightly pan-fried eggplant ($10) with ricotta and marinara was simply delicious. The chef didn't overdo cheese, breading or sauce. A special fried calamari ($16) with spicy scarpariello sauce was offered the night we dined, and it was also a hit.
Damiano offers several cuts of whole-wheat and gluten-free pasta. Since half orders of every pasta dish are also available, we couldn't resist bucatini alla l'amatriciani ($10 half or $16 full order). The sauce was as intensely flavored as we'd hoped with plenty of pancetta and onions.
Veal parmigiana ($24) hit all the right classic notes without being ruined with too much mozzarella. Tender chicken piccata ($20) was indeed served with a light white-wine-and-lemon-butter sauce. It was plated with potato puree and sauteed spinach. The chicken in the scarpariello ($22), however, was just a little overcooked. It's a half-chicken cut into pieces but left on the bone. I loved the vinegar peppers, roasted potatoes, olives and sausage.
You can't beat the 12-inch pizzas available with an assortment of toppings. The crust is crisp from the wood-burning oven, and the vegetarian pizza we ordered was topped with eggplant and onions.
For dessert ($7 each), try the chocolate cake or ricotta cheesecake. The restaurant also pours a nice cup of coffee ($3.25).
Damiano opened Oct. 1 after a short-lived debut as Assaggio del Forno. An ownership change saw Carlo Vaccarezza and John Williams taking over. The pair also have the much-more-expensive Frank and Dino's in Deerfield Beach. Williams also owns Max's Harvest in Delray Beach.
If I lived in the neighborhood, Damiano would be on my list of regular spots. It won't break any culinary ground, but sometimes reliable and affordable are more important than pizazz.
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Regency Court, 3011 Yamato Road, Boca Raton
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Noisy when full
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot, valet on weekends