LAKE OSWEGO, OR: Zeppo Italian Restaurant

Sunday was beautiful in the Portland area -- a perfect day for dining al fresco. Zeppo in Lake Oswego proved to be just the place!

We started to walk through Zeppo's sidewalk dining area on the way to our originally-intended destination on the water but were drawn in by the smells coming from the kitchen and the sunshine-swathed tables on the sidewalk.

Thus enchanted, we took a table and were we glad we did!

By sheer luck, we arrived with a few minutes of the afternoon "social hour" remaining. "Social hour" at Zeppo runs from 2 - 6 p.m, and again from 8 p.m. to close. During those rather generous time frames, Zeppo offers a variety of items for the very reasonable price of $4.50 per item. House wines are also available and are equally affordable.

We each ordered the house red -- a flavorful blend of Italian wines that proved to be fuller than the average Chianti but a fair bit lighter than a Montepulciano. Just the thing for a warm spring afternoon. As an accompaniment, we were served a basket of house-made bread with black olives baked in. Delicious!

For nibbles, we ordered a Caesar salad and a Caprese salad; chicken, mushroom and rigatoni with red sauce; and chicken and vegetable skewer with a mango glaze. Because this was our first visit, I asked our server if she thought that would be sufficient. She replied that, because the plates were smaller than the entree size but not exactly tiny, she thought we'd be satisfied. She was right.

All the items were yummy indeed. The balsamic vinegar chosen for the Caprese salad had a bit more sweetness than many I've tasted, but this went well with the red-ripe tomatoes and generous basil leaves. The Caesar salad was a standard Caesar, well-presented.

A request for a second round of bread brought a white Italian bread infused with fresh Rosemary. Different than the first, but no less delightful.

The chicken, mushroom and rigatoni with red sauce provided the "Italian food fix" my wife had been craving, while the chicken and vegetable skewer with a mango glaze gave us just the right amount of sweetness with which to end our meal.

Service was just right: always available, but never intrusive.

Perhaps it was the combination of good food, wine, and long-delayed sunshine, but we left Zeppo feeling quite satisfied indeed.

RECOMMENDATION: A "must" on a sunny afternoon; worth trying any time.

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