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Stella Ristorante: This 40th anniversary is not to be missed

STELLA RISTORANTE

152 Jericho Turnpike, Floral Park

516-775-2202

Happy 40th!

For 40 years, come October, Stella Ristorante has been adding to the dining scene in Queens and Nassau.

It all started with a pizzeria which was transformed by a steady progression of hard work into the elegant two-dining-room Italian restaurant of Stella 2000. Mama Cerrone, now in her 80s, who's always dressed fashionably, comes in each evening even though four daughters and a son are in the family business (daughter Maria has become a chef and pastry chef).

"When you look back over the 40 years, what memorable moment stands out?" the family asked. They recalled the early pizzeria days: A telephone order came for 15 pies for the Fire Department. It was a hoax; the Fire Department never made the call - but they were pleased to receive the gifted 15 pizzas.

Stella, one mile east on Jericho Turnpike, is ready for a celebration - spiffy awning and six cement planters overflowing with summery blooms. It's the work of daughter Elsa who's in charge of the outside, and it's just lovely.

The interior has elegance with fine art on the walls, tufted leather banquets, an attractive broad border circling the ceiling and in one room, a profusion of Tiffany style lamps. Mirrors are well placed so everyone has a view. And the food just seems to appear; the kitchen is invisible. Service is smooth.

At our recent visit, the blackboard at the entrance chalked up a special of portobello mushrooms. It was a spectacular array of Italian bread topped with mozzarella and portobello, with sauteed onions in the center of the quartet.

Stella's sausage roll sounded intriguing, and it was. I'd call it an Italian egg roll. It looked like one in size and shape. Here was a lighter version the characteristic coating with a sausage mixture filling.

We noted that the farinacci includes penne broccoli with garlic and oil and gnocchi Bolognese, also linguine and ravioli Bolognese.

In the bread basket were slim wedges of pizza dough topped with seasoning and baked - delicious nostalgia.

More tastily remembered menu items were: steak pizzaiola, veal scallopine pizzaiola and veal chop pizzaiola.

There was also a goodly number of seafood items. I was considering shrimp fra diavlo with clams and wondered about the special fish platter, when my companion chose filet of flounder on steamed spinach. Here was perfect simplicity itself - a most generous serving of flounder with a dusting of crumbs on an ample bed of spinach. It looked tempting and proved to be.

I have long thought that Italian chefs do a great job with stuffing for birds. I remember having turkeys made with a pound of ground beef. So stuffed chicken breast was my choice. It had a thickly sliced mushrooms in the gravy and they, so marvelously meaty, stole the dish. (For contemporary tastes, the gravy can be lighter.) The accompanying linguine had a delightfully fresh marinara sauce with two whole Italian tomatoes.

Maria's desserts are what desserts are meant to be. Note the cheese cake in the case on the way in. It is scrumptious. And when you see the serving of a long wedge of watermelon flanked by two wedges of cassava being served, you'll be sorry you didn't order it. (I certainly was!)

But the hit is gatteau St Honoree. It is a massive, two-layer version (chocolate mousse and whipped cream each an inch thick) with cream puffs circling the edge, sponge cake on the bottom and sides sprinkled with coffee - Maria's delectable Italization of the French original. (Tasting note: Try a spoonful in the coffee served in a tall glass mug."

With food, ambiance and service like this, in another decade, we'll be saying, "Stella, Happy 50th!"

THE BOTTOM LINE

Celebrating its 40th anniversary. Flower-filled planters outside. Elegant interior. Italian cuisine. Homemade desserts. Excellent service.

CHEF'S CHOICE

Brochetta with Portebellos...$6.95

Stella's Sausage Ro11...$4.50

Farffalle with Shrimp and Shitaki

Mushrooms ...$14.95

Veal Chop Cappicosa...$25.95

Cannolonis...$12.95

Special Fish Platter...$24.95

Gatteau St. Honoree...$4.95

Tiramisu...$4.95

Food: Italian cuisine

Setting: Elegant.

Service: Excellent

Hours: L Tues. to Fri. D 6 days.

Closed Mon.

Reservations: Yes

Parking: Lot E, side and rear

Dress: Casual

Credit cards: All major

Children: Own menu

Noise level: Comfortable

Private parties: 25 to 130

Takeout: Yes

Off-premise catering: Yes

Handicapped accessible: Yes

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