Though we're not completely finished with the toast and tomatoes, our waitress removes the plate and deposits a basket of hot focaccia. After our stingy treatment at lunch, I'm too pleased to be the recipient of all this food to say anything. Tonight the pizza-bread dough is airy, but warm.

The antipasto misto is almost too large for our small table. Our busperson, a woman, is sharp-eyed. "Can I get anything out of your way?" she asks. The antipasto contains samplings of prosciutto, mortadella, mozzarella, salami, provolone, roast pepper, marinated artichokes and mushroom, grilled eggplant and zucchini, plum tomato, baby asparagus and calamata olives. It's heavier on vegetables than meats and cheeses, but I don't feel deprived.

Our second appetizer, a bowl of fresh greenlip mussels with chopped tomatoes, onions and bell peppers is very much in keeping with the holiday season--green and red. I like it, though some of the mussels are on the chewy side.

We're still working on this mess of food when our salads arrive. This kind of ill timing occurs all evening long. Goat's salad, the mista, features crisp mixed greens and a simple vinaigrette dressing. My salad of plum tomatoes and Gorgonzola is very good. Aldo Baldo isn't chintzy with the blue-veined cheese.

Smoke wafts our way from the smoking section, traveling easily through the open partition separating the dining areas. Redirected air circulation might alleviate this problem. Uh oh! Here come our main courses. The server delivering them bobbles my plate and nearly drops it in my lap, but recovers. "Sorry," he says. Our attentive busperson scurries to clear dishes.

Despite this near-mishap, both presentations are aesthetically pleasing. Green half-moon ravioli in a pink tomato-cream sauce are festively decorated with bits of red pepper and grated Parmesan. Filled with creamy ricotta and prosciutto, the mezzaluna are light and lovely.

Shrimp scampi in a creamy roasted pepper sauce are tasty and firm. A dab of baked goat cheese and two piles of slivered zucchini, carrots and red pepper complete this plate. I am pleased.

We finish our meal with foamy decaffeinated caffe latte and dessert. Goat is stuck on gelato. He orders the cinnamon-vanilla this time. It tastes just like apple pie. I like the torte de mascarpone. This layered confection of fluffy cake and mascarpone mousse filling is dusted with cocoa powder and is pure genius. Dinner runs us seventy bucks with tip, which surprises me. Though Goat and I did order a lot of food, Aldo Baldo is being touted as a moderately priced restaurant. I had anticipated paying about ten dollars less for the two of us.

No one can fault the concept of Aldo Baldo. Its decor is bold; its food imaginative. But right now, something is lacking in the service department. "Futurism" is a good restaurant theme, but not when the waitstaff takes the futurists' adoration of the machine to heart. The tiny details of service do matter. Ask anyone. Marco Polo Cafe serves as a case in point when it comes to bad first impressions. The six-week-old, Italian-Oriental cafe occupies the obscure Camelback Mall location along Goldwater Boulevard only recently vacated by Vince's. All signs of the pizzeria, including the wall mural of Buffalo, New York, are gone. Marco Polo now resembles an old-style trattoria you might find in New Haven, Connecticut. I love the lace tablecloths and heavy-legged tables. And, believe me, Goat and I have plenty of time to examine our surroundings. This appealing little restaurant is woefully understaffed at present. Jim Valli runs the kitchen. His wife Irma handles the house. A third person washes dishes and helps with preparation. The Vallis desperately need to hire another waitperson and an assistant chef. The food is good. It just takes forever to get it. I could recite numbers for you. Six minutes until we are greeted and menus brought. Fifty-five minutes with no food of any kind. Two hours, from start to finish, mostly spent waiting and watching other people eat.

Apologies and smiles can never repair this kind of damage. Many people, myself and Goat included, would avoid this restaurant for fear of a second out-of-control experience.

Which is too bad, because the food--for the most part--is interesting. An Oriental dinner salad is ample and refreshing. I like the crisp bok choy, crunchy water chestnuts and soy sauce vinaigrette. The insalata Valli is also generous, but translucent with too much dressing. Roasted pimiento is a nice touch.

Phantom of the Opera alternates with Vivaldi's Four Seasons on the night we visit. I favor the Vivaldi because this is when we get our food.

The people who are really enjoying themselves here are those who have brought their own wine. Marco Polo has no liquor license, but you are invited to bring your own. Irma Valli tells us that many people like it that way. It is sort of retroromantic, isn't it? And wine does help while away the time.

Our kung pao prawns show up after our salads, but after nearly an hour of waiting, I barely care. The warm appetizer is very good: spicy sweet-hot with honey and chili oil and full of varied textures such as cashews, ubiquitous water chestnuts, shredded bok choy, pineapple and crunchy fried rice noodles.

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