LONGPORT - We were the first to arrive for dinner at Salvo Cucina and caught the staff still sitting together at a corner table. It took them a second to realize customers had arrived and for someone to take charge and offer to seat us. We brushed some crumbs from the chair before we sat down and noticed other chairs at other tables were not quite ready for service to begin. Since Salvo Cucina serves lunch it must have been someone's job to straighten up the dining room and get it ready for dinner service.

There is that old restaurant axiom that says, "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean." Missed details make for a bad first impression. After that slow start with service, the food was mostly much better.

The menu was definitely Italian in substance and in length, with plenty of "spaghetti with..." selections and chicken or veal with multiple garnishes and sauces such as Marsala, piccata or cacciatore. Veal, chicken and eggplant can also be made alla parmesan style.

Bread and butter arrived but, alas, the promised olive oil did not materialize. After reminding our server, the back waiter gave us a stack of dishes and some olive oil for us to deal with. Lucky us. We watched in horror as the same server carried over filled monkey dishes of dipping oil to all the other tables overhand leaving a trail of oil across the carpet that rivaled the recent spill in the Gulf. When we confided in our server it was brushed off by simply saying, "First day."

We were surprised when our server simply dropped the bottle of sparkling water on the table for us to open and pour, especially since the restaurant was hardly busy. While it would have been nice if it was kept cold somewhere in an ice bucket or a refrigerator, it would have been nicer if our server had at least poured the first glass. For many diners, us included, bottled water has replaced wine as the drink of choice and a little ceremony would not be a bad thing. Certainly bottled water at restaurants is not inexpensive.

My dining companion grilled our server as to the size of the clams that would be served in the steamed clams ($12.95) appetizer. After determining that they would be small enough, they liked the fact that they also were not overly garlicky and came in plenty of clear clam broth. The tiny clams were cooked correctly until just tender. Broccoli di rabe and sausage ($11.95) was described as sauteed to perfection in garlic and oil with a touch of hot pepper. Our sausage had been thinly sliced and fried until much too crisp, the broccoli di rabe was undercooked and crunchy, and there was little evidence of seasoning, garlic or heat. There is a difference between sauteing and frying. Too large to finish the server was thoughtful enough to wrap it up for us. Again, it would have been a more thoughtful gesture if they had held our leftovers "backstage" rather than plopping it on a table for two already busy with items we needed for the rest of the meal.

The award winning, house specialty gnocchi ($18) had to be the lightest, largest, pillows of pasta we have ever tasted. These tasted like they had some ricotta cheese mixed in with the other ingredients and were served resting in a pool of flavorful blush sauce. We are never sure if blush is a marinara sauce with a little cream or a cream sauce with a touch of marinara for color. Either way, this was a great combination and deserves the award for the best we have tasted in the area.

Seafood Pescatore ($23) was a gigantic pasta bowl covered with mussels, clams, shrimp, and rings of calamari, cooked together in a red sauce. Nothing can make a hungry diner happier than a big bowl of pasta al dente with loads of fresh seafood in a long-cooked red gravy. Cannoli sounded right for dessert since they were house made and because the server said there were two to a serving and we hoped that would mean plenty for each of us. Our proud server announced they had stuffed the cannoli and decorated the plate; we appreciated the sweet, creamy filing, the whipped cream, and the personal touch.

Most of the light provided filtered past the white orchids in the front picture windows. The walls and furniture were shades of brown so any extra light helped brighten the space. Our young server was pleasant and eager to please and seemed to warm up to us as the meal progressed, but it is the service end of the equation at Salvo Cucina that needs to be addressed.

Salvo Cucina

2401 Atlantic Ave.,

Longport

Phone: 609-823-1111

Hours: Dinner daily from 4:30 P.M.

Rating:

Liquor license: No

Credit cards: Most major

Disabled access: Yes

Price range: Appetizers $8 to $13.95, entrees $15 to $23

Our bill for two: $83 plus tip