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La Gioconda: Try upscale southern Italian at La Gioconda

LA GIOCONDA

21 North Station Plaza

Great Neck

516-466-2004 fax 516-466-4051

Smiles are definitely in order at La Gioconda. The restaurant's name translates to Mona Lisa and you know where that smile got her - wall space in the Louvre.

And smiles are definitely on the owners' faces or, at least, that's what you will surmise from the lilt in Jathy Verikos' voice when you phone to make a reservation.

The Verikoses opened the original La Gioconda on Main Street, Flushing in 1960. They sold it five years ago and searched for a new "perfect location." In the fall of '99, they opened in Great Neck opposite the Long Island Rail Road station. From all indications it is the perfect location. It looks as though they have another long run on their plate.

La Giocanda is an upscale southern Italian restaurant. And that's actually very interesting. You see, the Verikoses were both born in Greece. Jimmy went to restaurant school in Italy and then boarded an Italian cruise ship, going all over the world while dishing up Italian cuisine.

Here's the lay of their shore-based restaurant: A small bar as you enter with a fringe of white lights circling it. The tablecloths are pink with white throws. And let me assure you that the chairs have roomy, ultra comfortable seats and I don't recall commenting on that too often. An array of paintings is lined up on the long side walls including two vesions of the "Mona Lisa."

As for food, for an overture you can order escargot as well as zuppa di clams or di mussels. Or try a stuffed artichoke, stuffed peppers or shrimp or clam cocktail.

We opted for the cold antipasto which was a mound of greens topped with pimiento strips and mini black and green olives. Circling it were half-moon slices of provolone and salami.

There are 16 pastas listed from faglia e fieno al filet di pomidor (homemade green and white noodle pasta covered with a rich sauce made from fresh tomatoes, proscuitto and onions) to the last, pasta ala Sinatra (scallops, shrimp, clams and mussels over linguini in a light sauce) named after "Old Blue Eyes" "because Jimmy likes Sinatra."

The pasta parade also includes ravioli, tortellini, gnocchi, lasagna and manicotti. We had the ziti with eggplant as an appetizer. A nice bonus, the eggplant had been breaded and sautéed first.

Our main course was impressive. The combination plate caught my dining companion's eye. She had been to La Gioconda for lunch recently and urged me to have dinner there.

The combination plate is veal sorrento and shrimp monachina sautéed in a wine sauce. What you get is two portions of each: veal scallopine with eggplant and breaded shrimp with mushrooms topped with mozzarella cheese in that glorious wine sauce.

It's the kind of preparation that propelled Italian food to be a love affair with the American public. Note that at La Gioconda, combination plates are in order: The Three Musketeers is beef, veal and chicken sautéed in wine and mushroom sauce; the La Gioconda Special for two is shell steak, boneless chicken, veal rollatini with mushroom sauce.

I can wax equally enthusiastic about the chicken valdostana, chicken stuffed with ham, Swiss cheese and mushrooms in a brown sauce. Decidedly luscious.

There is a choice of pasta or vegetable of the day. I hope you'll be there when it's zucchini. Here was zucchini slices in tomato sauce that was irresistible. For those who go the way of pasta for your entree, broccoli, spinach or escarole with garlic and olive oil may be ordered.

The dessert choices confirm the Greek heritage of the Verikoses. There's tiramisu and baklava. There's spumoni and tortoni but there's also galaktomburiko.

Nonetheless, we chose to be tempted by the dessert tray. Rum cake, please. The Napoleon-style sponge cakelet, filled and topped with whipped cream and crowned with a glazed fresh strawberry was a refreshing way to end the meal. And there's Irish and Mexican coffee.

On the minus side was the noise level. But I hasten to add, nearby there was a table of eight of young ones and the rest had silver in their hair and nobody seemed to be bothered. The waiters projected well when they recited the specials.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Delicious southern Italian opposite the LIRR station. Comfortable chairs in a pleasant setting. Good service.

CHEF'S CHOICE

Seafood Salad...$7.95

Hot Antipasto (for two)...$8.95

Pasta ala Sinatra...$13.95

Three Musketeers...$14.95

Combination Plate (veal sorrento & shrimp monachina sautéed in a wine sauce)...$14.95

La Gioconda Special...$14.95

Cheesecake...$3

Tiramisu...$3

Food: Southern Italian

Setting: Walls lined with paintings

Service: Good

Hours: Closed Mon. L&D Tues. to Sun.

Reservations: Yes

Parking: Street

Location: Opposite LIRR, N side

Dress: Casual

Credit cards: All major. No Discover

Private parties: To 65

Takeout: Yes

Off-premise catering: Yes

Children: Share

Smoking policy: None

Noise level: Noisy when busy

Handicap access: Yes

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