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Michela's Caffe offers delicious food at affordable prices

Key: Double Precision - Outstanding

Word - Excellent

Byte - Good

Nibble - Fair

Bit - Poor

WORDthis is my rating for the restaurant

MICHELA'S CAFFE

1 Athenaeum Street, Cambridge.

By BRUCE D. WEINBERG

IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A HIGH-quality meal at an affordable price, then I recommend a visit to Michela's Caff'e. This little jewel, a more casual branch of its big sister restaurant, Michela's, is tucked away on a side street just around the corner from MIT, and offers both lunch and dinner.

The atmosphere is casual and relaxed. The Caff'e is situated in an atrium, with approximately ten small round tables covered by large colorful umbrellas available for seating. The chairs are supported by bungee cords. Even if you are not into bungee jumping, you will find these seats comfortable.

The appetizers offered an interesting twist to traditional antipasto and minestra. Michela's Caff'e serves wonderful steamed periwinkles in white wine with garlic and hot red pepper ($5.25). The foccacia, a lighter version than more traditional Italian flatbread, was topped with fresh rosemary. It was a welcome find, and the best I have had in the Boston area. It is also bargain priced at $3, as it serves three to four people.

An authentic garlic bruschetta with roasted artichokes, red onions, and warm caciovallo ($6.50), tomato and bread salad with anchovies and parsley ($5.50), minted romaine salad ($5.50), two different pizzettas ($9.50 and $10) and a soup of the day ($5.50) round out the appetizer menu.

The main courses were creative and flavorful. The one dish which I refused to order at first -- but did eventually order due to peer pressure -- turned out to be the best. It was a panzerotti, a large baked mushroom ravioli served on a perfectly complementary garlic cream sauce ($10.50). The ravioli had fine, crisp edges, and the mushrooms it held were delightfully fresh. A baked penne timballo filled with small meatballs, eggplant and ricotta ($10.50) was very good, and arrived awash in a fabulous marinara sauce. The hearty baked polenta with spicy sausage, fennel and roasted red peppers ($10) was an excellent choice as well.

Michela's Caff'e also features linguini with avocado pesto and sauteed shrimp ($12), baked fresh cod and potato gratin with spinach, rasins and pinenuts ($11), grilled tuna with tomato-pepper stew and capers ($12.50), grilled pork chop with almond couscous and honey glazed carrots ($12) and Oliver's chicken stew with tiny pasta ($11.50).

I highly recommend the Caff'e's desserts; they will not disappoint. The maple pumpkin flan ($5) was outstanding. This flan ranks with the best, and I'm picky when it comes to flan. The apple-apricot strudel was also very good ($5.50). If you prefer more traditional Italian desserts, tiramis`u ($5.50) is available. Coffee, tea, and cappucino range from $1.75 to $3.

The menu at Michela's Caff'e changes every three to four weeks, so I can not guarantee the items reviewed will be on the menu when you visit. However, I can guarantee wonderfully flavored food, friendly and competent service, and a free bungee cord ride.

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Bruce Weinberg welcomes your comments at celtics@athena.