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Pomodori Ristorante e Salone

As the business lunch becomes something of a luxury, reasonably priced midday menus are more vital.

The founders of Medford's Pomodori Ristorante e Salone wanted to stick with dinner after years of lunch service at their erstwhile Cadillac Cafe in Medford. But the economy's turn shortly after Pomodori's 2008 debut steered them back toward lunch, more attractive for cash-strapped customers.

From 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. weekdays, Pomodori offers nicely portioned entrees that include soup or salad. Prices start at $10 for each of several pastas to $15 for an 8-ounce steak. Salads and sandwiches round out the regular menu, as well as a soup-salad-bread combo for $8 — only 5 cents more than Olive Garden's.

The genre and pricing may recall that chain across town, but Pomodori boasts superior quality and service, not to mention status as a locally owned business. It's a bit off my beaten path for dinner — which starts at 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. So after a co-worker's recommendation of Pomodori's lunch, I dropped in with another colleague.

Lunch is even more affordable from Pomodori's short list of $10 specials. Selections included manicotti, lemon-chicken penne, mushroom ravioli and chicken breast with Gorgonzola sauce.

From a menu that's strong on chicken, ground turkey beckoned as the manicotti filling. Because the same dish tempted my friend, I suggested swapping some ravioli for a bit of manicotti. The former's cream sauce and the latter's vodka-spiked marinara kept us from duplicating flavors. We both selected salads.

The leaf lettuce and mesclun were among the lushest I'd seen at a restaurant in some time. Although the tomatoes were pale, chickpeas added heft and variety. Though I prefer lightly dressed salads, this one could have used a bit more housemade mango dressing.

If the dressing's application was modest, Pomodori's pasta sauces were the opposite. Each plate came filled almost to capacity with steaming-hot sauce over the featured item. Pomodori likewise was generous with the ravioli's garnish of Parmesan, a pile of irregular shards. No pregrated stuff here.

Some tough bits of rosemary detracted from the cream sauce's silkiness and nicely sauteed mushroom and white onion. I deemed the manicotti the better choice, more so had we ordered garlic-onion-cheese bread for $6 to sop up the marinara. With prices like these, that's hardly a splurge.

Nor is dessert at $7 per item. We considered lemon cake or an apple dumpling. A less popular fruit, cranberry went over well atop Pomodori's cheesecake. The berries retained some shape in a sauce that balanced sweet and tart.

Balancing lunch and dinner seems to be Pomodori's forte.

The restaurant is at 1789 Stewart Ave., Medford. Reservations are recommended for dinner and can be made online at www.pomodoriristorante.com or by calling 541-776-6332.

— Sarah Lemon

Pomodori's mushroom ravioli is served with a creamy sauce and topped with grated Parmesan. - Photo by Bob Pennell