July’s Friday the 13th was a lucky day for lovers of Italian food. Positano opened its doors in the new village center in Plainsboro and ushered in fine dining to the area which up to now had offered only good, but very casual, restaurants.

The entrance leads you to a small area where take-out can be ordered and the door to an upscale dining area warmed by terra cotta colored tiles and the clean lines of light wood. The windows soar in arches covered with bronze sheers, letting in plenty of light but obscuring the traffic of Shalks Crossing Road. Soon they will be opening a large outside terrace complete with three-tiered fountain. The modern abstract art and the geometric swoop of the banquettes in rich blue set the tone of casual elegance.

I arrived solo at 6:30 after a day punctuated by a single English muffin for nourishment. Needless to say I ordered one of everything from the goodly but not overwhelming menu. The range of appetizers offers a variety of items which are a welcome change from the usual, although the wonders of fried calamari and mozzarella are there. I ordered the sauteed asparagus wrapped with prosciutto and cherry tomatoes in white wine and garlic. It was a size that could be shared and was attractively presented ($10). Other hot and cold appetizers range from $8 for the mozzarella to $12 for the house sampler.

Ample kinds of salads are offered from $6 for the Caesar to $11 for the Positano salad with grilled eggplant and portabello mushrooms. The menu then moves through the range of pasta, chicken, meat, and fish dishes. Pasta can be ordered in a variety of combinations for between $14 for simple Bucatini al Pomodoro Fresco to $17 for smoked salmon in a brandy cream sauce. The lobster ravioli ($16) are large pillows stuffed with real chunks of lobster and smothered in a light pink cream sauce – everything a girl from Maine could want.

The carne dishes range from $22 for grilled pork chops in sweet vermouth to $27 for filet mignon in a demi glaze. Chicken, veal, and fish are more modestly priced and also come in a variety of preparations. The chef’s specials are three fish dishes, salmon, tilapia, and grouper, ($23-$24). Each entree includes soup or salad and vegetable can be substituted for pasta. Smaller appetites can have side dishes or be very content with appetizers.

In addition, sandwiches and wraps can be ordered at lunch or dinner and personal sized pizzas are always an option. Larger pizzas can be ordered, of course. Much of the dinner menu is available for lunch in smaller portions and lunch does offer specialty pizzas such as buffalo chicken, vodka rigatoni, or even chicken parmigiana for $10.

The desserts are sinful concoctions of chocolate, fruit, and what-have-you. I couldn’t resist the chocolate sorbetto served in a cocoa pod ($6). It was almost like mousse, and to think my server asked if I wanted whipped cream.

Positano is BYO and reservations are taken for parties of five and over. The manager, son of the owner, was pleased to share that they have been very crowded at lunch, not surprising given the proximity of Merrill Lynch, Merck, and the offices on College Road. The evening I was there was quiet but steady, with many folks coming in directly from the office. Several couples were happily chatting away without there being any harsh clamor of voices from too crowded tables, high vaulted ceilings, or a huge mosh pit bar. The dress was casual, summer work attire but a jacket and tie on the weekend would not be out of place given the ambiance.

It is clearly a date venue for evenings when you want something much more elegant than cookie cutter chains can offer. The boss would be pleased to be invited for lunch as would any out of town guests. Children with more sophisticated palates will find many dishes to suit them. While dinner from the full menu is a bit highly priced, there are ample offerings on a smaller scale to make this a favorite haunt both during the week and on weekends. The availability of takeout also makes this a prime spot to stop at on the way home. The hours are late date friendly; it is open until 11 on Friday and Saturdays.

The Village at Plainsboro is slowly, glacially, coming to life. Positano is a welcome early entry to the social scene that is promised by the development. It seems to be the place to watch the world go by, and I can already hear folks making plans to "meet you on the terrace."

Positano, 5 Schalks Crossing Road, Plainsboro. 609-799-8900, fax 609-799-8819. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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