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In theme-park dining, theme tends to count more than food. How else to explain the copycat menus from eatery to eatery? It's like the research honchos decided people want burgers, chicken Caesar salads and light pastas. The only question remaining is whether they want to dine surrounded by NASCAR, NBA or country-Western paraphernalia.

Pastamoré, at CityWalk, succeeds better than its peers because its energetic, Italian flavor doesn't feel as obviously contrived. Pastamore offers a varied, reasonably priced menu with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and surprising signs of originality. But it falters with erratic service and sometimes mediocre offerings.

Once you manage to get them to your table, Pastamoré's enthusiastic waiters will recommend the calamari ($7.95) for starters. I fail to see why. Deep-fried to erase all hints of its squid lineage, this uninspired dish is no better than the calamari of anonymous pizza joints. Superior appetizers include the expansive "antipasto robusto" ($14.95), the fresh, hand-thrown pizzas ($6.95), and the pan-roasted whitewater clams ($9.95), which are tiny but tasty.

All are perfect for sharing, but order some bread to fully enjoy the accompanying broth. In a display of disturbing cheapness, the restaurant doesn't provide complimentary bread, suggesting instead that you order a side of focaccia. We did, but it never showed up.

All pasta and meat entrees are offered in small and large versions, which is a smart move. My wife's chicken piccata ($7.95 for "small") was, again, recommended by the waiter and, again, startlingly average. Far more enticing was the "grilled steak Boursin," a generous portion of beef smothered by a garlic-cheese blend, served over roasted potatoes and peppers -- killer on the arteries but scrumptious and a bargain at $9.95 for the small. Our small spaghetti and meatballs ($6.95) were fine, with the huge meatballs being the high point. Pastamore's marinara is unusually sweet, tasting vaguely like a barbecue sauce.

Pastamoré gets kudos for an ample and reasonably priced wine list, as well as its family-style menu ($19.95 per person), which presents each course as a single, heaping plate for sharing

While the dessert tray of cakes looked inviting, we opted for creamy chocolate hazelnut gelato ($2.95). It was good, but next time we'll opt for the tray.

Pastamoré opens at 5 p.m.; visit earlier and you're stuck with the Marketplace Cafe. Overpriced and offering limp pizzas, the cafe displays tempting sandwiches, like the "panini cappicola." But at $9.95, these recall the gouging theme-park food of days gone by. Best to return when Pastamore is open.


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