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Dining Out: Great food, with a side of baseball

SARABELLA

103-19 Metropolitan Ave.

Forest Hills

718-575-8999

You've probably been in a restaurant any number of times and watched the staff with a piece of cake with candles aglow, sing "Happy Birthday."

But at Sarabella the other evening, the staff gathered in the open kitchen and serenaded executive chef Giuseppe Vitale.

It was a very happy birthday, I'm sure. Sarabella of Forest Hills opened Aug. 5 with Giuseppe presiding at the range. His credentials - Felidia and Becco in Manhattan, today's Italian dining shrines.

Sarabella is impressively large and most attractive. Danny Sollenne, the owner, has used Feng Hui principles to create energy. A row of round tables down the center circulates the energy. A fountain at the entrance to the dining room acts as break, making sacred space. We lingered and chatted far longer here over coffee.

Danny, since he was 15, has been an avid baseball memorabilia collector. Huge, colorful poster-size renditions of baseball stars paper the walls. There also are Sotheby's auction memorabilia finds. Add to that, a superb tin ceiling from 1931, an open kitchen with a bar for front seat viewing of the kitchen process, and a baby grand in the charming bar area with music Wednesday through Sunday. Quite a backstop for Giuseppe's fare.

On guests' arrival, he puts best fork forward with bruschetta heaped high with a chopped tomato blend that knocks your socks off.

Our dinner included the seafood salad that has won him accolades. It is juicy, it is luscious, not the oil and vinegar version that you liked so much until you experience Giuseppe's special. My dining companion enthused over the calamari which were small rings, very tender, with a good red sauce.

We split Sarabella insalata, a tricolor salad with endive, radicchio and arugola. Slivers of thinly sliced radicchio added eye appeal. And we split risotto. At Sarabella a different risotto is featured daily. Our skillet-sized serving (ample for four) with wild mushrooms was magnificently prepared. If you are still not a risotto afffectionardo, try this but be advised it's $16.00.

Sarabella also features a different game every day, from rabbit (in Italy they eat more rabbit than chicken), ostrich, venison, wild boar, pheasant.

Tonight? Ostrich. Well-done, it's wonderful. Or it can be tough, very tough. I played it safe (for I had it the latter way at the African embassy) and went with the striped bass. It was presented on a hot pewter platter, head and tail intact. Although the server was eager to filet it, I declined, preferring to do my own thing. A plus, it turns out - doggy bagged, it was juicer with skin intact.

She had osse bucco with a deep, rich brown gravy and there were two small ones. Since venison osse bucco is also featured, this could have been the less gamey farm-raised. "Served with wild rice," the waiter said. But we both were served green beans and browned cubed potatoes.

Otherwise the service was very fine. Polished. Caring.

After reading the menu on the way in, we pretty much decided against dessert - the offerings seemed trite. Our waiter announced, "Rosemary mousse cake." Could a food -adventurer pass that up? We split it. It was incredibly delicious, and Giuseppe made it (and other desserts as well as the pastas). A layer of mousse topped a thin cake layer set on a dessert base. But instead of rosemary mousse, it was raspberry. The birthday child misinformed the wait staff!

Since Giuseppe has Becco, which specializes in three pastas nightly, as a credential, I may have been remiss in not ordering pasta. Actually, we considered the pumpkin stuffed ravioli but went with risotto.

Giuseppe offers a selection including cheese tortellini in a rich cream sauce with prosciutto and peas, Sarabella pasta - porcette with sausage and broccoli rabe, trofie with crabmeat, olives, garlic and oil.

All in all, Sarabella is a good addition to "restaurant row" on Metropolitan Avenue.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Very fine Italian cuisine. Different venison and risotto daily. Spacious. Steeped in baseball memorabilia. Piano-playing Wednesday to Sunday. Fine service.

CHEF'S CHOICE/SPECIALS

Hot Antipasto (stuffed mushrooms,

shrimp oregonato, eggplant rolatini,

baked clams)...$12

Fresh Porcini...$15

Osso Bucco Venison...$26

Striped Sea Bass...$26

Stuffed Veal Chop...$24

Pannacotta...$6

Tiramisu...$6

Food: Italian cuisine

Setting: Baseball memorabilia

Service: Very fine

Hours: L & D 6 days. Closed Mondays.

Reservations: Six or more

Location: One block from Continental

and 7lst Avenue

Parking: Valet Fri., Sat., Sun.

Dress: Chic casual

Credit cards: All major

Children: Accommodate

Takeout: Yes

Off premise catering: Yes

Private parties: To 120. Wine cellar

room, 40

Music: Piano Wed-Sun

Noise level: Moderate

Smoking: Bar

Handicapped accessible: Yes

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