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Published: Friday, 4/2/2004

Restaurant review: Zia's ****

Since our first review of Zia's when it opened nearly four years ago, very little has changed - not that there's anything wrong with that.

The restaurant, located at The Docks in East Toledo, still has the same good Neopolitan food, brawny chianti, homey decor, familiar faces behind the bar, and outdoor patio that soon will fill up with warm-weather patrons taking in the spectacular view of the downtown skyline across the Maumee River.

Most important, Zia's kitchen still lures customers with the smell and silken taste of red sauce, garlic, and pasta burbling on the stove.

Where some restaurants make daily, weekly, or monthly menu changes, there is definitely something to be said for Zia's reverence for the tried and true. The menu remains essentially as it was from the start, emphasizing Italian specialties and pasta with a small nod to steaks and fish.

The spaghetti and rigatoni, for example, are still studded with ruby red tomatoes, and the spaghetti features a hearty Bolognese mixture of veal and pork. Customerss can order everything from a bruschetta appetizer ($4.95) to a five-course feast for six ($21.95). And the Tuscan bread, which should have arrived warm but didn't, is still served with an addictively good spread made from Kalamata olives.

In short, Zia's, owned by the ubiquitous Mainstreet Ventures of Ann Arbor (which also lays claim to three other Toledo area restaurants), capitalizes on consistency. But the changes that have been made are worthy of note.

Mondays, for instance, mean all-you-can-eat spaghetti ($9.95)

with house salad and a choice of meatballs, Italian sausage, and Bolognese, Alfredo, or basil sauces. On Wednesdays, all bottled wine is 50 percent off. And the thin-crust Margherita pizza and its dressed-up varieties ($12.95 to $15.95) are available for pickup or delivery to your boat - assuming, of course, you have a boat.

Dinner on a recent night offered no real surprises but also no disappointments. It began with grilled shrimp, asiago polenta, and marinara ($7.95), saucy and delicious. The $2.95 house salad with garbanzo beans and white wine vinaigrette was cold and crisp, and the entrees each had something to recommend them.

Vitello saltimbocca ($16.95) combined luscious veal scallopini and almost bacon-like prosciutto with vegetables cooked in a sage butter sauce. Chicken Parmigiana ($13.95) featured two hefty breasts blanketed with mozzarella, tomato, and basil sauce, and tortelloni ($13.95) - grilled chicken with spinach, walnuts, and pimiento - swam in a pungent, irresistible gorgonzola cream sauce.

On another visit, Rigatoni Zia's ($12.95) brought together a decidedly anti-Atkins Diet mix of pasta, Italian sausage, tomatoes, vegetables, herbs, cream, and cheese - wonderful. And from the small dessert menu, headed by $3.95 choices of chocolate bread pudding and tiramisu, we settled on pistachio cannoli, which gave us a salutary sendoff home.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com

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