Often-forgotten Milano deserves some respect among the city's best Italian restaurants.

Greenhouse Effect 

Often-forgotten Milano deserves some respect among the city's best Italian restaurants.

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Vaccaro not only deserves respect but is starting to get it. Eating lunch at Milano one afternoon, I saw one of the fussiest food snobs I know relishing every single bite of a thick slab of Sicilian-style lasagna. I've always considered lasagna to be a Sicilian invention, but my Italian aunts say that lasagna Siciliana means only that the dish is made with meat. Vaccaro's definition uses a heavier portion of Italian sausage. "It's so fresh-tasting," the food snob said when he came to my table. "I think you should order it, too."

I was torn between that recommendation and the day's special, a different lasagna made with fresh spinach and a hearty Bolognese sauce. I had recklessly eaten almost a whole plate of light, crispy calamari before even thinking about lunch, so I chose a Caesar salad instead. It came generously laden with chilled shrimp tossed in a fresh basil marinade.

There's a slight touch of that distinctive St. Louis-style Italian — hearty Southern Italian cooking — in Vaccaro's culinary repertoire and his unflappable good nature. There's no spaghetti and meatballs on the Milano menu, but Vaccaro gets so many requests for the Italian-American dish that he frequently offers it as a special. The other most-requested dish not on Milano's menu? "Fettuccine Alfredo with chicken," Vaccaro says. "If we're not too busy, I'll make it."

But it's a sin not to order the stuff that's on Vaccaro's menu. It's a nice combination of the stylish, such as lobster-filled ravioli in a tomato cream sauce deftly punched up with a splash of Sambuca liqueur. Even the familiar, like the Kansas City Strip, gets a new take here. Vaccaro coats his with a gorgonzola crust and sides it with grilled portabella mushrooms.

There's not a lot of beef on Milano's menu, but one night when I was dining with Merrily and Bob, the special was a plate of tender beef tips glazed with a balsamic reduction and arranged around a creamy asparagus risotto. Merrily loved it so much, I practically had to beg for a bite. Bob wouldn't share a morsel from his favorite dish on Vaccaro's menu, a chicken saltimbocca that lives up to its name (literally "jump in the mouth"). It's a combination of vibrant flavors wrapped around that plump chicken breast: sage, fontina cheese, salty prosciutto, and a tart lemon butter.

That was the night I practically put myself into a carbohydrate coma (thanks to those addictively crunchy pencil-thin Torini breadsticks and a big hunk of ciabatta baked with sun-dried tomatoes) before the waiter even took our order. I considered one of the lighter options, such as ravioli stuffed with grilled vegetables, but I suddenly craved something spicy. Unfortunately there's nothing too fiery on Milano's menu. The turisti don't like spicy, I was told. The only exception is the gamberetti fra diavalo — the devil's shrimp. OK, so the crustaceans aren't so hot, but the fluted mafalde pasta practically steams with a pomodoro sauce potent with garlic and chili flakes.

The pretty, glass-paned dining room is just as attractive at night as it is during daylight hours, which makes this space particularly lovely from a visual standpoint. Aurally, it's a nightmare. The noise level can be deafening when the room is filled with chatty diners. There are plans to correct this by adding mesh umbrellas in key areas, but I worry that could potentially distort the airy, greenhouse quality of the space.

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