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If you are looking for a quiet meal where conversation is easy, Pazzo Pomodoro may not be the place for you.

But, if you are looking for good food and a lively atmosphere, and don’t really care about easy conversation, do give this Vienna newcomer a try. Since opening late last year, the Southern Italian food served at this pizzeria/cantina has been discovered, as the animated lunch and dinner crowds attest.

Pazzo Pomodoro

Where: 118 Branch Road SE, Vienna

Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; Dinner, 5-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; closed Monday

Price range: reasonable (entrees $13-$24)

For information: 703-251-7777,

Pazzo Pomodoro, which translates as “crazy tomato,” serves what it described as made-from-scratch “modern but traditional authentic cuisine.” That description provides plenty of latitude for the chef.

For this new restaurant, chef Raffaele Mastromarino, a native of Southern Italy, has created a menu that offers something for everyone, even the children, but does not overwhelm with too many choices. What that means for diners is a balanced menu that features fresh made pastas, Neapolitan-style pizzas, a limited selection of fish, meat and chicken entrees, and a handful of the chef’s signature dishes.

One should, however, start with the appetizers, and here one could make a meal without even consulting the rest of the menu. Either the steamed mussels in white wine sauce or the grilled (or fried) calamari served with moderately spicy tomato sauce could be a main course, perhaps accompanied by a small salad.

But one should not overlook the arancini made with saffron rice and filled with calciocavello cheese, mozzarella, peas with meat sauce, or the memorable lightly breaded fried potato croquettes filled with prosciutto and mozzarella. Add to this the pan-fried buffalo mozzarella with either spicy tomato sauce or a garlic anchovy sauce and the grilled Portobello mushroom with smoked mozzarella and balsamic reduction, and you understand the wisdom of starting with the appetizers.

Moving on, Chef Raffaele’s signature dishes include an eggplant Parmigiana, Raffaele-style crabcakes with spinach, mushroom risotto, and Southern Italy’s answer to the classic French bouillabaisse, zuppa di pesce. This stew with clams, mussels, shrimp, fish and calamari is served with garlic-rubbed crostini.

Among the other entrees, the pan-seared salmon with pink peppercorn brandy sauce is not listed as a specialty, but it should be. Served with roasted potatoes and vegetables, this fish is tender and moist, with a sauce that adds a gentle touch of heat.

For a pasta dish, the simple spaghetti with pecorino and grana padano cheeses and black pepper is a safe choice, but the handmade agnoletti filled with spinach and ricotta in mascarpone sauce and the pappardelle in duck and mushroom ragu deserve consideration.

Pazzo Pomodoro offers an extensive list of mostly Italian wines, many of them reasonably priced, and, to end the meal, a small selection of Italian “dolce.” These include several gelatos and the familliar cannoli and tiramisu, zuccotto (the house specialty) and one that invites sharing: Baci di Sofia Lauren — six small milk chocolate cups, each filled with zabaione and topped with a fresh berry.

All of the above should convince that there’s far more to a good meal than quiet conversation, especially if you explore the appetizers and finish with one (or more) of those yummy chocolate cups.