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DINING OUT

All the charm of Tuscany

Tuscany Tavern

294 Court St., Plymouth

Telephone: 508-747-9291

Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 4:30-

10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 4:30-11 p.m.

All major credit cards

Wine, beer and cordials

Handicapped accessible,

bathrooms not

Reservations accepted

We recently returned to the Tuscany Tavern and were pleased to find the same warm welcome and friendly atmosphere we experienced when we dined there five years ago.

Vincenzo Nocera , who owns several South Shore Italian restaurants, including Caffé Strega, also in Plymouth, says the beamed, yellow-hued room evokes a Tuscan taverna, with its terra cotta sconces and framed classical artwork. A large mirror, with an ornately carved wooden frame, is the focal point of this 30-seat space. There is a nod to formality, however, with starchy white table linens.

The co-owner of this establishment, which opened about eight years ago, is Maria DeFilippis , who hails from Salerno, Nocera's hometown on the Amalfi Coast.

Pain D'Avignon , in Hyannis, bakes the typically coarse-textured, salt-free Tuscan loaf. Enhanced by a cruet of garlicky olive oil, it came in handy for mopping up our salad dressings.

A Caesar salad ($5.95) was requested with anchovies (it comes either way) and a sprinkling of Gorgonzola cheese. Our server, however, failed to mention there would be a $2 charge for the latter.

A shared Caprese salad ($8.95) was a generous platter of thickly sliced fresh mozzarella, and tomatoes sprinkled with shredded basil -- a summer treat.

The swordfish special ($19.95) was a sizable steak, fresh and moist with a zesty lemony zing. It was presented simply over a melange of tricolored, julienned peppers. Our fish aficionado proclaimed it ``special" indeed.

Nocera trains all his chefs, including the tavern's Uma Perrotti, whose spaghetti alla puttanesca ($9.95) was pungent with a savory, basil-flecked, fresh tomato sauce. She had a generous hand with the tangy, tarragon capers and black Gaeta olives that make the dish so special. It is one of the few pasta standards on the menu available to vegetarians.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was a brodo crustacei ($21.95), a heaping platter of mostly mussels, several littleneck clams, cubed mahi mahi, and shrimp, served with a quartet of grilled, thinly sliced bruschetta, which absorbed the zesty broth. Although at that price, we had hoped a lobster tail, or even a claw, might have been included.

Where would many Italian restaurateurs be without Bindi , the Milan-based provider of tempting Italian desserts? It seems to be their dolci purveyor of choice these days. Tuscany Tavern is no exception, offering a varied selection that includes mango sorbet ($5), served in a scooped out mango half and full of ripe fruit flavor.

Sinfully rich profiteroles ($4.50) come two ways: a soft chocolate coating enveloping a pair of cream puffs with a vanilla creme Chantilly filling -- or the opposite, with the vanilla Chantilly on top and chocolate inside. Either way, they're a decadent delight.

We thought the cappuccino and espressos, though both decaf, could have been a little stronger.

In spite of its small size and open, tiled kitchen, the room was cool and well ventilated. A pair of servers were pleasant and accommodating, as was our hostess, Caterina , Maria's sister.

The close proximity of the tables made it easy for patrons to interact after dinner, and the taverna took on a clubby atmosphere. Even our hostess joined in with reminiscences of Boston's North End.

BRENDA MARCHAND

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