Restaurant Review - Italian stallion

Neighborhood staple Pasta Vino provides

No reservations, no substitutions, no credit cards, no wine list.You want wine? Red or white?

Things are that straightforward — or that quirky, irritating or endearing, depending on one's point of view — at Pasta Vino, a Trattoria.

Whatever one's feelings on the finer points of convenience or customer service, however, Pasta Vino is the kind of place one wants in one's neighborhood. The food may not induce heights of rapture, but it is consistent and never disappointing.

What could be better than inexpensive, freshly made food delivered quickly, served in normal portions that aren't drowning in sauce? Isn't it fun to plop down in a plain old chair at a plain old table — which may or may not be topped with a red-and-white checked vinyl cover — in a room decorated mainly by the sun coming through the windows and order traditional southern Italian dishes from a no-nonsense veteran waiter?

Regulars — and one gets the feeling that nearly everyone here is — get giddy over the specialty of the house, garlic knots ($1.50). Six or seven of these little rolls, tasting faintly of baking powder and studded with bits of fresh garlic, come to the table on a metal pizza platter, still sizzling. Don't worry about filling up on them, they're light. And the appetizers will be on the table before they have a chance to cool down.

And you do want appetizers. This is where Pasta Vino shines, particularly with the luscious roasted peppers ($5.50) enhanced with herbs, garlic and olive oil. One large red pepper slab anchors the cold Italian anti-pasto ($5.95) plate as well. The accompanying prosciutto is sliced a bit too thick for my taste, but the good salty flavor is still there, and it does pair nicely with the salami and provolone. And the fact that the kitchen makes a light, fresh marinara sauce means that you can't go wrong with mussels marinara ($7.95) or fried calamari with spicy marinara ($6.95).

Note that the salads are free of brown-edged lettuces and the remains of romaine ribs. That and a restrained hand with the house dressings makes any of four salads a happy choice, from the tossed salad of iceberg lettuce, green olives and tomatoes ($3.95) to the house special (iceberg lettuce, green olives, sundried tomatoes and those wondrous roasted peppers, $5.50); the chef's salad (iceberg lettuce, green olives, tomatoes, salami, ham and provolone, $6.50); and the very nice Caesar salad ($5.50).

Subs — $5.75-$6.75 for Italian (salami, ham, provolone) or chicken, eggplant and meatball parmigiana versions — are available at both lunch and dinner, as are an array of excellent thin-crust pizzas. Single slices range in price from $1.45 for cheese to $3 for the Pasta Vino special (works on a thin crust) or the Greenwich Village (with fresh vegetables). Whole 16-inch pies start at $10.75 and $18 for the Greenwich Village.

Other choices? The Four Cheese — ricotta, cheddar, parmesan and mozzarella; white — ricotta, garlic, olive oil and mozzarella; 42nd Street, the white pizza with sundried tomatoes and pesto; Central Park, fresh spinach and sliced tomatoes; and the simple, delicious Margherita — fresh basil, sliced tomatoes, garlic and olive oil.

There's nothing cutting edge about the pastas and entrees, but that isn't what Pasta Vino is about. It's about satisfying one's periodic need for such standards as baked ziti with tomato sauce, ricotta and mozzarella ($8.50); spaghetti marinara ($7.50); spaghetti and meatballs ($8.95); lasagna with homemade pasta, ground beef, tomato sauce and mozzarella ($8.50); fettuccine Alfredo ($9.45); or linguine with clams, garlic and olive oil ($9.25). It's about enjoying veal, chicken or eggplant parmigianas; veal piccata (scaloppini with white wine and lemon, $11.75); veal pizzaiola (scaloppini with tomato sauce, mushrooms and peppers, $11.75); or chicken Francese (chicken breast sauteed with white wine and lemon, $9.95) without feeling overcharged for the privilege.

Still, there are several interesting dishes on the menu. Grouper Marechiaro ($12.95), for instance, lovingly cooked grouper accented with mussels in their shells, bathed ever-so-lightly with tomato sauce and redolent of fresh herbs. Or rigatoni Napoletana ($8.95) with roasted peppers and Italian sausage in marinara sauce. The day's fresh fish finds its way into linguine Mediterranea ($10.25), along with calamari and mussels.

For dessert, there may be tiramisu. Then again, there may not be. No matter. It seems unnecessary to add anything to the trattoria tradition.