ROME SERVICE

Both of us have ordered pasta dishes as our main entree. After all, it was Marco Polo who brought the noodle to Italy from China. Pasta is served in heavy bowls; a piece of bread comes perched on its lip.

Will I ever learn to avoid "primavera"? Apparently not. I fall for it once again because I think Marco Polo's Chinese primavera pasta with chicken will be different. And it is. It resembles nothing more than spaghetti topped with Chun King something-or-other. Thankfully, the flavors are good, but I'm disappointed by the preponderance of water chestnuts and bamboo shoots.

Wait a minute. Where's the chicken? "Oh, did you order it with chicken?" says Irma. "I forgot. It's my fault. I'm sorry." Grateful to have any food at all, I tell her it's okay. "Thank you for accepting it," she gushes.

Penne a la fontana looks better. The tubular pasta is bathed in a creamy sauce with peas, mushrooms and bits of mortadella. It's a comforting dish, though a tad salty. I like it.

Dessert is limited to cassata cake this night. Goat and I share a piece of this layered confection of pudding, sponge cake and fruit. It is quite pleasant.

If they're still around, I'll revisit Marco Polo in half a year or so. With a couple of extra hands at work, I could see this cute cafe becoming a neighborhood favorite. The food is satisfying and the price is right. But no one has this kind of time to waste--especially not with a big budget, in-and-out operation like Aldo Baldo just across the street. I hope the Vallis make it. They could, just by getting their food out of the kitchen quicker.

Aldo Baldo Ristorante, 7014 East Camelback, Scottsdale, 994-0062. Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Sunday; Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday.

Marco Polo Cafe, 7027 East Camelback, Scottsdale, 970-0799. Hours: 5 to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.

®MDBU¯marco polo

You could fly to Los Angeles in the time it took us to score food.

It resembles nothing more than spaghetti topped with Chun King something-or-other.

®MDBU¯aldo baldo

Aldo Baldo is a fictional Italian inventor and artist. His quotes appear above the open kitchen.

We watch in disbelief as someone from the staff touches up the black chairs at another table with a black felt-tip marker.

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