Apart from the still awkward parking lot entrance (two steps in, turn right, two steps up, turn left), which has been tidied up, the venerable, legend-laden Northwood Villa seems much as its old customers remember it. Angelo Tsipis, the new proprietor, even greets the guest with a warm slice of cheese bread that needs only a tweaking to recapture the exact seasoning of Gen Dokurno's signature bouchee.
You realize the chef has some distinctive recipes of his own when you first see a cheese appetizer flambe, which is casseri cheese (a stranger to me), sauteed on a sizzling platter with brandy and fresh lemon. Apart from bruschetta, perhaps, varied piquant sauces on thick slabs of crisp toast, the other appetizers are a conventional lot.
If you're a fan of French onion soup, by the way, you will want to note that while it's listed alongside soup du jour, a traditional crock baked with cheese topping is listed separately, among the appetizers.
Entree offerings are conveniently grouped by type: steak and chops, seafood, pasta, poultry, and veal, and they are enough to satisfy almost any taste. While there are (or may be, your choice) nibbles of chicken in two dinner salads, and ham and turkey in a julienne, a vegetarian will be able to make a meal of the Caesar or the Greek salad entrees. And for those whose dietary inhibitions do not include fish, there are salt and freshwater choices, pickerel and yellow perch among them.
Cutting across these categories are a half-dozen "Angelo's Specialties." All of these, if each of two or more customers orders one, come with a plate of antipasto (singles might wish that were on the appetizer menu, as well). Heading the specialties list is gamberoni portofino, both winning words, and so I said yes. Gamberoni is one of many Italian words for shrimp or prawns. I'd call these prawns, three or four inches long, husky enough to be opened and split, sauteed in garlic butter, and served on a bed of spaghetti, under a succulent medley of fresh tomatoes, marinara, pesto, mushrooms, and basil. It was a busy evening in the kitchen, and sad to say the prawns - which still had to be dug out from the tail shells - were tough, a bit overcooked. Still, this is a dish to be not only admired but enjoyed.
Veal - vitello - is a standard of the Italian kitchen, and besides an embellished marsala among Angelo's specialties, there are four other veal choices. Faced with this embarrassment of riches, I weighed the merits of a standard marsala against a parmesan; the server, asked her opinion, didn't miss a beat when I noted that her recommendations happened to be the two most expensive. Even so, she declared, in her judgment they were the best, and I followed her advice, voting for the ducale, scallops of veal sauteed in butter with shiitake mushrooms, prosciutto, and cracked walnuts, the whole finished with a brandied blue cheese sauce. Her taste was good, for so indeed was the dish. I endorse her recommendation.
Big enough to be a dinner entree - which it isn't - there's a risotto dish, Pescatora, on Angelo's lunch-hour menu. It immediately caught my attention, because risotto, one of my favorite one-dish meals, is just now beginning to catch on in midwestern restaurants. This "fisherman's risotto," served with one of those big sauteed prawns on top, comes with a generous helping of scallops, chopped clams, and red pepper slices in a rich tomato-based basil-tinted sauce. It's not too peppery, very tasty, but I'd never call it risotto, which typically forms a moist cake of a distinctive kind of rice. This dish is really a stew or thick tomato-rice-seafood soup.
There are several steaks on the menu, as well as prime rib, lamb, and pork chops.
If you believe that the quality of the bread is an index to the fundamental quality of the restaurant, you'll rate Angelo's high on that scale. There is a full bar, an adequate wine list that isn't yet printed out, and the service, overall a bit wanting in sophistication, is nonetheless cheerful and willing.
The Villa is identified by a prominent roadside sign, about a quarter-mile past the Benore-Dixie traffic light, on the east side of the highway.