ITALIAN. Complete with waterfall, La Grotta splashes onto Northern Boulevard, a roadway already at flood level with marinara sauce.

It's a bright, noisy, tight spot, full of good feeling and even better food. Locals already know this. In its first weeks, La Grotta is as packed as those tour boats bobbing around Capri.

In full, this is Ristorante La Grotta di Marcello. The dining rooms have a golden hue, with greenery lining them, as if draping onto courtyards. You'll notice some art suggesting a generic Mediterranean.

And there's that waterfall, a constant cascade visible and audible to the passing pedestrian as well as the diners seated in the front room. It goes for the natural plunge over the rocks more than any stylized approach.

A piano player opposite the entryway bar sets the tone with a repertoire of Italian restaurant hits, from "Mala Femina" through "The Godfather" love theme.

The menu continues the program, with flavor and flair.

The gratis bruschetta, with shavings of ricotta salata, could be an appetizer unto itself. A half-order of linguine alla Sarda definitely jump- starts the meal, with a sauce sparked by black olives, roasted peppers, anchovies and garlic. Just as lively is penne arrabbiata, asserting itself with hot cherry peppers, fresh tomatoes, onions and basil.

For quieter appetites, the straightforward rigatoni with tomatoes, onions, basil and olive oil is fine. Likewise, the agnolotti with basil and cheese in a pink sauce.

Lentil soup has a bracing, savory quality. And the minestrone carries enough vitamins to prep you for a pre-holiday physical.

The kitchen sends out satisfying crab cakes, meaty and well-seasoned. The appetizer combo of roasted red peppers, anchovies and olive oil, is a good foil for them. So's the union of shrimp and string beans, with mozzarella, nuggets of potato, peppers and olive oil.

Broiled and sliced portobello mushrooms benefit from a slick of garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The mozzarella in carrozza, which here basically is an Italianate grilled cheese sandwich finished with capers, anchovies and marinara, can be heavy going.

Lighten up with the mesclun salad, completed with raisins, shavings of Parmesan cheese and a mustard-walnut oil dressing. The tricolor is tasty, as is the modest Caesar.

The "no substitutions!" warning that precedes the main courses is balanced by a statement that they'll "happily try to fulfill all special requests." This is a flexible, friendly crew.

You'll enjoy a special of snowy, lightly crusted Chilean sea bass accented with balsamic vinegar. The vinegar, with onions, almost saves an overcooked slab of grilled tuna.

Snapper sauteed with lemon, capers and roasted peppers is a respectable alternative. Or pick the reliable salmon in mustard sauce.

Costoletta Alegria translates into a pounded veal chop sauteed with capers, roasted peppers and brandy. It's good. But you may prefer the ample, juicy broiled veal chop instead. Steak with green peppercorn sauce is a dependable selection, too, with a side order of sauteed onions, peppers and mushrooms.

Lush tiramisu, cheesecake and cannoli lead the familiar sweets. The fresh fruit finale is ripe.

The attentive, experienced staff tries mightily to keep everyone happy, even when the restaurant is filled beyond capacity and the noise level is on the rise. They know what they're doing.

And you certainly won't leave feeling blue.

Reviewed by Peter M. Gianotti

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