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Located just up the street in Cotati, I am wondering why I never went out of my way ? not too far and just up the street ? to this tasty little restaurant. All homemade and all home-style, I?m feeling like I?m at Capp?s Corner in North Beach. Turns out, he knows the owners of Capp?s and most everyone in North Beach, where he started out, and even has some pictures of himself with some very famous Italian men you see on the History Channel for less savory reasons than fine food. But Nicolino is no mobster. He is a very sweet man and his restaurant is truly old-school Italian.

Nicolino?s has been there for there 13 years. As we sip some wonderful Montepulciano D?abruzzo together, he confides that his success is due to his love of people and his secret family recipes.

He is from Barri Monfetta, a small fishing village in south Italy, and he spent 22 years working in North Beach. His chefs are Benny and Tommy Fee and their specialties are lasagnetta (small lasagna) and cannelloni.

Everything here is made fresh. They use free-range meats and nothing is frozen. Dry rib-eyes are quite delicious, with a pepper butter and big, fresh and bountiful bruschetta stacked deep in tomato with fields of fresh basil and garlic. The salads are perfect and petite and the dressing matches nicely.

My final course is the Osso Bucco. Yes, they have Osso Bucco! Julien carrots piled high and broccoli help to adorn this rare and hard-to-find dish. Atop polenta, it falls off the bone, cooked to perfection. For dessert, the Tiramisu with flaky stacks and light Belgian chocolate, is unbelievable.

This food is really good and Nicolino is a very nice man.

My second stop is Risibisi, which has had some recent changes, including sole ownership by Marco Palmieri. Marco is relaxed and business looks good. The atmosphere is calm and very comfortable. Jacob, his sommelier since last year, is quite knowledgeable and offers us a beautiful Amarone from Corteforte ($90) to pair with my braised short ribs and steak frites. He is extremely polite and may be the most courteous waiter in town.

For starters, we are served a nice, crisp, dry house prosecco to pair with the a grandiose pile of lightly battered and delicious calamari. It is very fresh and it melts in your mouth. Point taken: I am a calamari snob and will condemn it when cooked or presented poorly. I?m cheering for this one.

Oh, happy Halloween ? it?s pumpkin raviolis that have dropped onto the table and they are goblins of genius. Sage and crumbled amaretto cookies, come on! Then crushed walnuts? This dish is most tasty. For my entree, braised short ribs with red wine jus, mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables.

Like our medalists on the board that didn?t win us a gold, I dive into my dish with a nice tug of the Amarone to follow. The smoke in the meat resonates with its deep, firm sauce and then a folly of gorgeous lighter cherry summer fruit echoes through my senses and chases it down. If your love is running deep, come and swim in this dark beauty. Let?s just say it?s a cross between Salma Hayek, a warm stick of black licorice, and a fine-tuned 911 turbo. The potatoes are perfect. The snappy green beans and buttery zucchini are lovely. Lovely is the night. Lovely is this new Risibisi.

Five minutes late to my 11:45 appointment at Cucina Paradiso?s new location on the Boulevard for my third stop and there is already a crowd of 20 people. The menu here is tantalizing. From starters of antipasti to Carpaccio, there is a bounty of things I desire to taste. Chef Denny has just come out on the floor to ensure me they are only using McEvoy olive oil, which is one of, if not, the best olive oil made in the country. Moreover, it is organic.

For starters, they send me a big, healthy, spinach salad pinned down with fresh-grilled prawns, laden with endives and smoked red peppers, dotted with Gorgonzola cheese and walnuts. I cannot afford a trip right now, but I am getting a nice little taste of Italy in this culinary jaunt.

Economy down? I?m confused. There are now 41 patrons ? I?ve counted, and everyone is smiling. Out comes the second course and these guys are not fooling around. Gnocchi in red sauce topped with scrapes of fresh basil, recently ground pepper, and a storm of freshly grated parmesan that I never want to end. The sauce is rich and hearty and fresh. With it, the cheese combines in acquiescence to create a smoky flavor even this garrulous author cannot describe as it announces itself in your mouth as your own, personal Food Channel game show host with each intriguing bite. Oh, my!

It is packed now ? nearly 50 people! Doctor Chelemedos and his wife are here, my old friend Damon Calegari, Don Figone of Mario and John?s, and here comes the chef?s final creation ? another home run, the Pesci Del Giorno, or grilled swordfish. It consists of a large, lovely piece of fish, breaded and topped with fresh tomatoes, oregano and extra virgin olive oil. What can one say? It is culinary romance as it melts in your mouth. The side greens are fresh and crunchy and I am more than content, even nervous about waddling back across that dangerous crosswalk to my little abode, as I am so full of good food.

Also of note is the fine food at Sugo and Graziano?s, two other downtown Italian restaurants that are both running strong. Unfortunately, I was not able to get in to all of them, but the food of each of these can be quite wonderful, too. Thank you to all who helped in presenting such great food and hospitality for this article.

(Jason Jenkins is the owner of Vine and Barrel, a wine shop at 143 Kentucky St. He can be contacted at 765-1112. The Web site is www.vineand barrel.com)