Pasta Pomodoro at Santana Row

If you want great Italian food at a reasonable price, you can’t go wrong with Pasta Pomodoro’s newest restaurant, located in San Jose’s Santana Row. I came early to avoid the lunch crowd, but the popular restaurant already had a small waiting list. Even so, I was seated very quickly.

The visit started out a bit rocky; the bruschetta was good, but not particularly memorable. The piccola, or small, size was the perfect portion for a lunch side ($2.95) and it was prepared the way it should be — the chilled Roma and basil mixture served on the side. The bread was lightly toasted with just the right amount of crunch but the tomatoes were disappointing. I expected farm-fresh taste, but instead received what seemed more like supermarket-chain-quality leftovers. Being too weak on the quintessential basil and garlic didn’t help matters.

The gemelli on the other hand was absolutely superb — grilled chicken and mushrooms over toothsome corkscrew pasta, mixed with roasted garlic in a sun-dried tomato cream sauce. The chicken was tender, the sauce rich but not overwhelming, and the flavor was outstanding. At only $7.95, the gemelli is a dish not to be missed. For lighter fare, the $9.95 special, shrimp scampi over linguine in a lemon and garlic white wine sauce, had just the right amount of flavor and spicy heat to kick up what is often a dull and lifeless dish. The buttery sauce seemed a bit messy and slightly greasy, but the ten large shrimp were sauteed to perfection in a world where shrimp is often overcooked, tough, and rubbery. Still hungry after all that? You can’t leave without trying the chocolate souffle coupled with vanilla bean ice cream.

Sparsely but cleanly decorated in creamy tans and rich browns, Pasta Pomodoro is Santana Row’s best Italian-style restaurant. I’ll be back!