Mediterraneo Fine Cuisine, the newest restaurant of the Lo Presti family (owners of Piccola Italy, Arianna's Grill, Pronto Italian Restaurant, Mary Angela's Pizzeria and Maldini's Ristorante), is a beautiful space: granite-topped bar, dark wooden booths, linen-covered tables, arched doorways and filigreed metal wall sconces and light fixtures. There is also an inviting patio for al fresco dining. It's the type of place where you anticipate lingering over a good meal with a special someone or a group of good friends. Sadly, on my two visits to Mediterraneo, we didn't linger. The food quality was inconsistent, some of the execution was puzzling, and some dishes just did not make the grade.
Part of the dining experience is reading the menu and then anticipating the food you've ordered. Several items that we picked were not as described, which was not only disappointing but changed the caliber of the dish. We decided to start things off with an order of melon wrapped with prosciutto. What we were given were beautiful, thin slices of prosciutto on a mound of mixed greens, dotted with melon balls. I wondered why the melon was not cut into strips and wrapped in the prosciutto, as described on the menu. The melon-meat ratio was not the same, and the experience of taste was not as expected, despite the good ingredients. The second time we encountered the disconnect between the menu and the actual dish was with the potato chips that came with our panini. The menu said "served with home-style chips," which to me meant at least kettle-cooked chips. We were served thinly ridged, regular potato chips, nothing home-style about them.
The panini, however, was tasty. The fresh mozzarella melted into the ham and was enhanced with an olive-oil-and-basil mixture slathered onto one side of the sandwich. Served on grilled ciabatta bread, it was crunchy on the outside, a bit gooey and quite flavorful on the inside.
I expected the pizza to be good, and it was. The crust was thin, nicely browned and crisp. We ordered the margherita, with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil. It was very pretty, with thin ribbons of fresh basil artfully strewn over the top. This also gave a nice hint of herb with each bite. The pizza was a bit on the salty side, which might have been all in the cheese, although it also could have been from salt added to the tomato sauce.
Generally, I thought much of the food was over-salted. The smoked-salmon appetizer would have been wonderful with the capers, thinly sliced red onion and lemon juice, but it was almost inedible because of a heavy hand with the salt shaker. I also found this to be true with the sauce of the veal saltimbocca. Instead of enhancing the slices of veal, stuffed with mozzarella, prosciutto and sage, the saltiness of the sauce overwhelmed the delicate flavors. Some of the veal pieces were tough, others tender. The fresh sage was lovely, but it wasn't enough to save the overall dish.
One of the better things we sampled was listed with the pasta dishes, although there was no pasta in it. Pasticcio di melanzane was a small casserole dish of slices of grilled eggplant layered with a white cream sauce, shrimp, prosciutto and tomatoes. It had a nice flavor and a balance of creaminess against the acidic tomatoes. The Mediterranean salad, too, was good. The greens were fresh, the tomatoes sweet, the olives briny and the onions thinly sliced. The feta was not overwhelmingly salty, and the balsamic vinaigrette enhanced the salad perfectly.
I would say the highlight of the meal was dessert, and I am not even a huge dessert fan. We chose almond-chocolate-chip semi-freddo and the panna cotta. In Italian, semi-freddo means "half cold," and this partially frozen ice cream laced with almonds and chocolate chips was rich, creamy and very soothing. Panna cotta is the Italian version of a custard or flan. The texture was light and silky. The sliced strawberries and blueberries that dotted the plate were the perfect taste companions for the caramel-flavored custard.
Mediterraneo is a beautifully appointed space that has potential if its creators show the same care and attention to detail with the food as they did with the décor. They just need to honor their menu and lighten up on the salt.
3730 Winterfield Road, Midlothian, 794-5350
Salads, pizzas, sandwiches and appetizers $7 to $17. Entrées $22 to $33. Desserts $7.
Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m.