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Franco's Italian Restaurant

"This is the best cheesecake in the world," bragged the Argentine waiter at Franco's Italian Restaurant, and I had no reason to doubt him. I had just spent my lunch charmed by the homey yet elegant meals at this tiny Cypress restaurant, where the tablecloths are checkered, the waiters earnestly smack fingers against lips when describing linguine, and Frank, Dino and Pagliacci roar without rest.

I entrusted my palate to the Argentine shortly after he brought out the house bread: small, delicate loaves baked so that each resembled some intricate sailor's knot—maybe a halyard bend? Each roll gently broke off into wedged pieces that ably scooped up an accompanying thick, garlic-seared artichoke dip. The light-skinned waiter nodded silently in approval when we scraped off the last smears of the spread. "An excellent choice, paisane," the gent then exclaimed without irony when my dining partner and I chose the mushrooms stuffed with crab meat for an appetizer. The platter steamed ominously as he placed it on our table, but it was nothing a few puffs couldn't cool down. Succulent crab engorged already hefty, smoky heirloom mushrooms; Parmesan cheese sprinkled with parsley decorated everything—brilliant.

Franco's has an extensive Italian menu—all your major pastas, subs and even a surprising selection of veal dishes—but Argentina suggested I order the scallops with risotto, their special of the day. I paused. Scallops are jewels to me; I won't tip restaurants that botch them. But Franco's scallops merited a 40 percent gratuity: firm yet pliable to fork, slightly grilled. The risotto was a bit cheesy, but its ricotta provided a welcome contrast to the scallop's marine tang. My partner's spaghetti, meanwhile, was what great spaghetti should be: a wonderfully simple but tasteful sauce; solid pasta; and fat, sweet sausages with a subtle pepper kick.

We needed dessert, and that's when the Argentine made his bold declaration: cheesecake. We were at Franco's bakery counter by then, where crème brûlée, carrot cake and some cannoli beckoned. I wanted cannoli, but a waft of cinnamon from the cheesecake greeted my nostrils; they flared at the tease. This cheesecake was thick, almost like tiramisù, but so strong with cinnamon I could actually feel it sizzle on my tongue. The supporting crumb crunched; the taste, divine. I've had many cheesecakes in my life, but the Argentine was right. Argentines are always right—just ask them.

FRANCO'S ITALIAN RESTAURANT, 4453 CERRITOS AVE., CYPRESS, (714) 761-9040.

GARELLANO@OCWEEKLY.COM

 
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