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Corleone Ristorante

October 28, 2007

By SAVORY SAM

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- When I heard about the opening of yet another restaurant specializing in Italian food, I admit a chip appeared on my shoulder.

I like Italian food as much as the next reviewer, but a) there are already plenty of Italian restaurants in the greater Hagerstown area, and b) most of the Italian dishes in this area are Americanized versions of the dishes I ate in Italy.

So I went to Martinsburg with a bit of an attitude to check out the new Corleone Ristorante. It turned out I needn't have worried.

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Corleone is different from other Italian joints in the area. First, it's expensive. Second, the restaurant takes its name from the family at the center of the 1972 film "The Godfather" and carries the "Godfather" theme into the menu and dining room decor. Third, the food is very good. Not great, but very good.

Finding the restaurant was difficult. We drove past it twice and finally got out to search on foot. Then we saw the small sign high up on a public clock on the front of a former bank. Two gigantic granite columns flanked the clock.

Once inside, the decor was simple and classy -- white walls, black ceiling, terrazzo floors, black granite table tops, dark upholstery on chairs and booths. Nice, but not stuffy.

Welcoming patrons was, of course, a black sculpture of a horse's head. This reference to "The Godfather" was just the first. The typeface on the menu emulates "The Godfather" logo. The bar features empty violin cases in the corner, and the men's room has a poster offering translations of Italian words and phrases such as "boccalone," which means big mouth.

We slid into an extra-wide booth that seated the four of us very comfortably and considered our menus. This took time, partly because there is plenty to consider, and because the menu is a playful homage to the "Godfather" movies. Familiar faces and quotations mingle with wines, soups, appetizers and entrees. There's also a children's section.

Some patrons might find the "Godfather" references overkill; I took them as playful. Our waitress, dressed in black and white with a bright red tie, was similarly upbeat.

We ordered, our bread arrived, and our taste buds awakened. The bread was light and warm, served with herbed green olive oil and Parmesan cheese. On the table was a very nice pepper grinder. When we asked for salt, we received a grinder with coarse salt in it. The salt snob in the Savory clan was elated.

We ordered a bottle from the wine list. The list is broken up by regions of Italy. Prices were a bit steep -- bottles ranged from the mid-$30s to $400. Our Sangiovese was $40; a bit steep, but the well-balanced wine complemented our diverse meal. Our red wine glasses were eye-catching -- large round globes that made each sip an experience.

Our appetizers quickly followed -- a small antipasto platter and bruschetta. The bruschetta, tender and warm with cheese and chopped tomatoes on top and drizzled with a sour-sweet vinegar reduction sauce, drew raves all around the table.

The antipasto was also good -- not the paltry Americanized version all too common in local Italian eateries. This platter had flavor -- three kinds of meat, Kalamata olives, thin spears of asparagus, dried tomatoes, soft slices of fresh mozzarella, pepperoncini and a modest bed of spring greens. Lots of flavor, lots of texture.

We ordered across the menu for our main dishes. One vegetarian crossed her fingers and ordered pasta primavera, knowing that this dish often is often lacking in flavor. She did ask to replace the tomato sauce with a creamy Alfredo sauce. She was pleasantly surprised. Not only did the sauce add flavor, but the vegetables were zesty -- mushrooms, peppers, onions and olives. Her only complaint: Needs more pepper.

We also ordered pan-seared salmon with risotto. The salmon was a hit -- crusty on the outside and tasty on the inside. We all wanted more.

The third entrée we ordered was the frutti di mare -- seafood lasagna. This is comfort food for seafood lovers. Big noodles, plenty of shrimp and other seafood, and lots of thick, creamy sauce.

When it came time to wrap up the meal, we ordered two desserts -- tiramisu and limoncello -- and two espressos.

I have never eaten a better tiramisu. The individual elements -- mascarpone custard, cocoa and chocolate ladyfingers soaked in coffee and amaretto -- stood out, yet worked together. A chocolate sauce drizzled over the whole thing was OK, but the texture reminded some in the party of a Hershey's product.

The limoncello was a frozen, light, tart and sweet sorbet. Both were delicious. The espressos were bitter and rich, an Italian ending to a good Italian meal.

Corleone Ristorante has been open just a month, so presumably kinks are still being worked out. Four of us ate for $150, not including tip. An appetizer, entrée, dessert and glass of wine for each patron could easily push the bill to $50 a head. A bit pricy for most families.

But we enjoyed our experience, and the food is distinctly not generic Americanized Italian fare. And the chip on my shoulder? My attitude dissolved as soon as I saw fresh, green olive oil on the table.

Savory Sam is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail staff member who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.

Corleone Ristorante

4 stars (out of 5)

Food: 4 stars

Value: 3 stars

Service: 3 stars

Ambience: 4 stars

Address: 131 S. Queen St., Martinsburg, W.Va.

Hours: Corleone Ristorante is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

Phone: 304-262-3456

Web site: http://www.corleoneristorante.com

Style: Fine Italian

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