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Dining Out: Caffe on the Green offers bucolic respite next to expressway

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CAFFE ON THE GREEN

201-10 Cross Island Pkwy., Bayside

718-423-7272

w.w.w.caffeonthegreen.com

It has always amazed me that Rudolph Valentino, the suave sheik, had a summer home on the Long Island Sound in Bayside. Growing up in Beechhurst, just blocks away, I picked peppery wild watercress with Grandma in the stream on the property. Then the unpretentious home with dark green shutters was dismally vacant.

Several restaurateurs had tried and failed. But with Caffe (the Italian spelling) on the Green, it's a success. At a cocktail party at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Whitestone Times in the lovely garden beside the pond (six years ago filled with tires and an old car), I was enchanted by how bucolic it all was, seeming to be miles instead of yards away from the traffic of the Cross Island Expressway. By happenstance, I caught a glimpse of the redesigned dining room, dedicated to Valentino, and knew I had to experience it.

And I did. The very next evening I dined in the Valentino Room with a garden devotee who marveled over the hibiscus and oleander planting beside the walkway.

The room is stunning, the kind you usually find only in swank Manhattan hotels. It's paneled in cherry wood with the original two-sided fireplace in rose marble. Rudolph's very old photo, redone and enlarged, hangs on one side and Rudolph with wife Natacha Rambovas on the other.

Between each window there's a single, polished brass sconce. A small cherry wood bar with a Gatsby air, is situated apart yet part of the scene. And the night we were there, a small dining alcove seating three round tables of 10 was used for a birthday party.

The maitre 'd at Caffe on the Green seems perfectly cast in this setting. Dining in the Valentino Room was a whole new experience. I adored the ambiance, and the food tasted better than I ever remembered it and so too, the service. The elegant relaxed pace of the whole evening made it very special.

He chose the carpacio di salmone marinato: thin slices of citrus-cured salmon, garnished with capers and onion. Picture this: a mound of julienne of cucumber surrounded by overlapping slices of salmon, a new-to-me presentation, enticing on a warm summer evening. Our wait person was pleased with my choice - a pistachio-studded sausage on a bed of mesculun. As you cut it, juices warm the greens.

For an entree, he chose chunks of chicken breast with artichoke and sausage, served over polenta. I had a special of Chilean sea bass baked in a banana leaf, served on the opened leaf set on melt-in-your-mouth Yukon potato slices.

Dessert was shared. (Could it be that the chunklets of faccacio proved to be too enticing?) The dessert menu listed 10 tempters. The Dome, our choice, was delectable - a tower of treats from the creamy dark chocolate ganache on the bottom, to the buttery crisp wafer topping it, to the ball of cassis sorbet, to the mint sprig. Actually, the mint was an important addition which set off the chocolate, sorbet and wafer to perfection, and creme anglais was the final embellishment. The Caffe on the Green special coffee with white creme de menthe and cognac was a just right conclusion.

The Valentino Room's for me.

When Caffe on the Green opened, I remember the awe in owner Franco's voice when he looked out of his second-floor office and commented on the view. The excitement is still in his voice on the phone. From attending a cocktail party up there another time, I agree.

Incidentally, my Manhattan dentist's hygienist, who has been to two "On the Green" weddings, considers the site "a cut above."

Well said.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Stunning, recreated Valentino Room. Italian cuisine. Maitre 'd service. Garden setting. Golf course. Piano and singer in Valentino Room, Wednesday to Saturday.

CHEF'S CHOICE

Pepereni Ripieno ...$8.75

Carpacio di Salmone

Marinate...$10.50

Pasticcio aile Paradise...full

portion $15.50

Branzino del Mediterraneo

(filet of Brazilian sea

bass)..$23.00

Veal Rodolfo Valentine ..$18.50

Anitra al Chambord (muscovy

duck breast and leg)..$22.50

Brioche and Berries ...$7.00

Chocolate Commotion...$7.00

Cuisine: Italian

Setting: Garden.

Service: Maitre 'd

Hours: D 6 days, L Wed., Thurs.,

Fri. Closed Mondays

Parking: Valet

Dress: Business casual

Smoking : Valentino Room

Children: Own menu holidays

Credit cards: All major (except

Discover)

Music: Singer & piano,

Valentino Room: Wed-Sat

Private parties: To 250 sit-

down;to 400 cocktails

Noise level: Moderate

Handicapped access: Yes

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