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Dining Out: Il Caravaggio stands out amid dozens of Italian restaurants

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IL CARAVAGGIO

179-22 Union Turnpike, Jamaica Estates

969-0061

With Italian restaurants to the right and Italian restaurants to the left, when yet another opens, can it be new and exciting? If the restaurant is Il Caravaggio on Union Turnpike in Jamaica Estates, the answer is unequivocally, "Yes."

An Italian aficionado and I went to dinner there on a stormy Thursday evening. The exterior, small and unassuming, did not impress. Inside there was a small bar and then grill work which added a bit of separation but still had an airy feeling. It gave the owner, Benvenuto Giatti, a chance to display, in an artful way, wine selections. (We were seated right on the other side, a very nice place to be.) On an antique Italian table close by were more bottles; bottles are his thing,

The art on the walls, 14 reproductions of the artist Caravaggio from Lombardy, home of the artist and home of the restaurateur. Carlo, the chef, is from a neighboring Italian town,

Ample, juicy bruchetta and crunchy garlic toast were presented while we contemplated the menu and nightly offerings. I didn't recall ever having marinated Alaskan salmon carpaccio - marinated salmon with a fresh frisee and orange salad. It was magnificent. The orange salad brought out the very best in the salmon. It was a match made in gastronomy.

Serving beef carpaccio with hearts of palm Parmesan and arugula is another new note. My dining companion was pleased with calamari fritti con zucchini, and I must say they were the smallest, tenderest rings I've encountered. The addition of zucchini sticks and the spicing of the tomato sauce made it what it was.

We had decided to share tortellini, although half portions are an option. The tortellini were petite and ultra delicate with an Alfredo like sauce-a superb primi piatti.

Everything was going so well. We were on a gustatory roll. One of the specials was a grilled tuna loin with pesto sauce. What was pesto sauce? Loin was change from the usual steak. The sauce did not excite. But asparagus tips were a spring like addition.

The vegetable, carrots sliced on the diagonal, halved, tossed with a few peas and a dash of marinara sauce, was an amazement, at least to me. Even though I eat them, carrots are my least favorite food in all the world. These I loved.

His veal, thinly pounded Milanese style, thinner than I had ever encountered, looked, and was, luscious.

At this point, gelati e sorbetto sounded perfect for the dolci, especially when it was a green apple sorbet. You didn't have to be told that it was green apple and even if it wasn't a fresh, delicate green shade, it had a distinctly green-apple, Granny Smith taste. Here was fresh-tasting, cool dessert. His tiramisu del Caravaggio was pretty much per usual layered in a goblet.

Other noteworthy menu items are the mixed green salad with Gorgonzola cheese, walnuts and poached pear (the darling of the year 2.000) with a balsam dressing. And potato gnocchi ( I'll bet they're petite, about the size of a bay scallop) with a Gorgonzola cheese sauce. Risotto here has a zucchini and shrimp twist. And the ice cream is vanilla honey.

The chef knows what he's doing and has a creative flair for combining flavors in a tasteful fashion. He lets the food speak for him. There's nary a garnish except for a scattering of chopped parsley on the plate. And that's refreshing, and seems new again.

Gigatti has had experience running several restaurants in Manhattan. The blustery night that we were there, Il Caravaggio was filling up fast.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Italian cuisine from Lombardy. Good service. Fresh new ideas. Fine.

CHEF'S CHOICE

Marinated Salmon Carpaccio with

fresh Frisee Salad and Orange

Salad...$9.00

Mixed Green Salad with Gorgonzola

Cheese, Walnuts, Poached Pear &

Balsamic Dressing...$6.50 Potato

Gnocchi with a Gogonzola Cheese

Sauce...$7.25 (1/2)/$12.00

Sauteed Shrimp with Wine Sauce

with Sauteed Spinach...$18.00

Grilled Marinated Cornish Hen with

Fresh Herbs...S16.50

Creme Brulee..$5.00

Seasonal Fruit Sherbet...$4.50

Cuisine: Italian (Lombardy)

Setting: Caravaggio reproductions

Service: Fine

Hours: Closed Monday. L Tues. to

Thurs. Dinner 6 days

Reservations: Suggest weekends

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Credit cards: All major

Children: Half-price pasta

Private parties: Private room to 35

Takeout: Yes

Off-premises catering: To come

Smoking: None

Noise level: Moderate

Handicapped accessible: Yes

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