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Rooftop dining at Northern Exposure fares well

Northern Exposure is a staple in Charlottesville and, in particular, in the University community. If you have never eaten there, you should. And the best time to go is now. The warm weather and blue sky make the restaurant's rooftop dining an absolute pleasure.

The kitchen specializes in pizzas and pastas but also offers several dishes featuring meats and fishes. The range of appetizers is interesting as well. Certain ones make sense for Northern Exposure's theme of Italian cuisine, such as bruschetta, fried calamari or the Tuscan vegetable soup.

But others, like the 22-spice chicken wings or the Northern Exposure Jamaica jerk-marinated wings, seem out of place. We opted for the more traditional Italian appetizers assuming good classic cooking would win repeat customers.

The bruschetta ($5.95) was very good. Six grilled pieces of French bread come covered with garlic-marinated tomatoes and chopped basil. With more tomatoes than bread surface area, we held on to the plate and picked at the tomatoes throughout dinner.

We used the excess tomatoes falling off the bread to spruce up the lackluster salads that accompanied our dishes. With an appetizer as simple and tasty as bruschetta, it is difficult to start your meal off poorly.

Paper wrapped shrimp ($6.95) was offered as an appetizer special. The menu promised shrimp wrapped in phyllo dough with diced vegetables, accompanied by a "sesame quack-quack" dipping sauce. But where we expected lighter and fluffier pastry dough, we got crispy, deep-fried, oily dough, and where we expected a unique and fun sauce, we got the normal Chinese restaurant duck sauce.

The flavor of the fried phyllo wrap definitely dominated the flavor of the shrimp. The whole thing tasted more like a shrimp hushpuppy. The appetizer clearly does not deserve a spot on the regular menu.

When it was time to pick an entree, our waitress was very helpful. We appreciated her candidness in telling us the Mulberry Street sausage lasagna is not good in comparison to the ravioli. We found her to be very attentive throughout our meal. In fact, the service was casual enough that you might think twice about having a really romantic evening here.

We went with the advice of the waitress and chose the smoked mozzarella ravioli ($15.95). A hearty portion of homemade raviolis swam in a pale green, moderate tasting pesto cream sauce. The sauce did accent the raviolis but clearly allowed the smoked mozzarella to be the dominant flavor.

Initially well received, the strong taste of smoked mozzarella eventually was too much. If this could be served as a first course, it would be good, but as an entire meal, it relies heavily on one pungent taste.

On the other hand, the spinach ravioli with Gorgonzola cheese ($11.95) balances the different tastes well and is certainly worth a repeat order.

From the meats and fish options, we found the chicken and shrimp scampi ($15.95) appealing. Pieces of the well-cooked chicken and shrimp were rich with the garlic scampi flavoring. Delicious mashed potatoes come on the side.

Skins and knots provide the potatoes with a rougher, more playful texture than their smoother and lighter cousins. Also, a huge hunk of broccoli comes on the plate - perhaps more than the usual patron might want.

Some of the other pastas included linguini alfredo, pesto angel hair pasta and tortellini primaveri. Salmon and Angus steaks rounded out the meats and fish category.

The fun desserts are surprising. The key lime pie's ingredients are as expected: graham cracker crust, key lime juice and whipped cream. It's a respectable choice that will not disappoint you.

But the fun really jumps out in the ice cream desserts. There is one creation that places a slab of mint chocolate chip ice cream and vanilla ice cream on top of a thick oreo cookie crust. The dessert is finished with a generous layering of whipped cream and colorful sprinkles.

Although most of the time we would rather get ice cream from an ice cream shop, this was incredibly good and festive. The desserts all cost around $5.95.

We don't think that Northern Exposure will blow you away, but it is definitely a nice place to eat dinner. The mostly hearty meals are slightly expensive and not everything on the menu is a winner. But perched on the roof, sipping a glass of wine and enjoying one of their pasta staples is an experience every University student should have.


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