Wafting strains of "Happy Birthday" frequently drown out Dean and Frank's background crooning. Service is friendly, from the host's greeting and on to the delivery of fresh, hot Italian bread in a basket. This sesame-sprinkled bread looks ordinary, but its crisp crust and pillow-soft interior can prove addictive.
The menu features some non-pasta specialties, such as Chicken Marsala ($11.75), Veal Parmigiana ($11.75) and Scampi ala Dino ($15.50). (There was a Dino's restaurant in the family for years in Pasadena. The place now bears the Scarantino name at 2055 E. Colorado Blvd.)
But, when in Rome or Naples, as the hand-painted murals suggest, we generally head for the pasta section of the menu. Selections include minestrone and salad. This minestrone is thick and chunky, with beans, pasta shells and vegetables, all simmered into a deeply delicious flavor. I could eat a much bigger bowl of this Italian comfort food, but salad, and then an enormous serving of pasta, are heading my way.
Mostacciolis are among my favorites, and there are several permutations to try. My Baked Mostaccioli Marinara ($11) arrives, thickly blanketed with a browned, bubbling swath of molten mozzarella.
Our waiter deftly slides my serving from the steaming casserole, in which it baked, onto a serving plate. This pasta is so hot that it might never cool in that sizzling dish.
I still have to wait a significant interval, breathing in the perfume of red sauce, before venturing a forkful. (I have been down this road before, so I know that the first bite of too-hot pasta can scorch the palate.)
The pasta is studded with thickly cut mushrooms, olives, ricotta and sauce.
This dish is vegetarian, but robust enough for any carnivore.
My husband's Baked Mostaccioli Sorrento ($11) features a very rich, meaty house-made sauce with three cheeses, including the aforementioned blanket of irresistible cheesy goodness.
The Princess Daughter's spaghetti with butter and parsley ($9) proves redolent with garlic, and quite flavorful — such simple ingredients, such a great dish.
That's Scarantino's in a nutshell — a simple, unpretentious place with food that will take you back in time, if not to your grandmother's kitchen, then to her favorite neighborhood Italian place.
CHERIE MERCER TWOHY teaches cooking in La Cañada Flintridge. She can be reached at www.chezcherie.com.