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Annie’s Gourmet Italian doesn’t miss with superb service, excellent food

When I heard that Annie’s Gourmet Italian welcomes dogs along with their owners to its patio — and even offers a brief menu for mutts — I thought, as a dog lover, that it was one of the coolest things I’d heard in a long time.

I also thought it was one of the weirdest.

I mean, it’s nice — and it definitely distinguishes it from the madding crowd of Italian restaurants in the valley — but, the word "gourmet" notwithstanding (I hate that word anyway, because it’s meaningless), just how serious was this restaurant?

My dogs have yet to find out, but I can vouch for Annie’s offerings for humans. It is indeed serious and very, very good.

I was immediately impressed with the attention to detail. This is a small, suburban place, but the decor is sophisticated, with slate floors whose rustic look is echoed by stone water features and contrasted by soft lighting, serene artwork and crisp linens. As far as service, attention to detail was so extreme (and that’s a good thing) that our waitress asked if we’d like our bread before or after our appetizer.

Our chosen appetizer was an Annie’s specialty (Annie’s Famous Stuffed Mushrooms, $9.95), and a worthy one at that. There were but four mushroom caps on the plate, but they were quite large and stuffed with a harmonious mixture of Italian sausage and spinach with seasonings and cheese, all of it blending into fine forkfuls of flavor.

The bread turned out to be crusty Italian rolls, served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. When we’d polished off the first basket, our waitress offered another, and while we declined, she offered again later in the meal — a particularly nice touch because one of us had indeed changed his mind.

The menu promised that the veal Parmesan ($16.95) would have thin slices of meat, and the kitchen delivered. The delicate scallops were lightly sauteed and topped with mozzarella, Parmesan and ricotta and napped with just enough tomato sauce, making for a sophisticated presentation that was layered in appearance as well as flavors and texture. It was served with lightly sauced rigatoni, an underused cut that is particularly effective at holding both sauce and its al-dente texture.

Four again was the operative number for the shrimp scampi ($15.95), but they were large and truly just enough, considering the characteristic richness of the buttery, garlicky sauce. A choice of rigatoni, fettucine or linguine (my three favorite cuts, coincidentally) was promised with this one, and the fettucine was perfect, the sauce clinging to its sides like rain on a window.

And I hope you’ve been paying attention to prices.

Service throughout was, as I said, excellent, our polished, soft-spoken server returning frequently to top off our glasses of wine (with a reasonable markup on bottles) and be sure we were satisfied.

Which we were, in spades. Sal and Mario, the Labs black and yellow, have no idea what they missed.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or e-mail her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.

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