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Dining Out: Experience a taste of Italy near Douglaston LIRR

Bellagio

234-19 41st Ave.

Douglaston

224-1300

fax 281-1417

There’s a little bit of Italy down by the Douglaston station—not one but two upscale Italian restaurants. Bellagio is on the north, the station side (once wooden Victorian, now brick modern), the weeping beach side. The setting is really quite bucolic with a bench out front, two tables for two for dining al fresco. A charming, tree-shaded playground abuts it.

If your train pulls in before 6 p.m., you can sup on Bellagio’s sunset menu of soup or salad and a choice of 12 very fine entrees plus dessert and coffee for $18

We happened in on a Wednesday night wanting something on the double, yet a “meal.” A salad first course was the answer—a fresh, bountiful toss of raddicchio for me and tri-color for him. The chef/owner, Craig, whipped up a shrimp melange spooned over a mound of “American” sticky rice and topped with long, slivered carrots and long slivers of zucchini. The sauce was luscious and lemony, banquette de veau like. The rice reminded me of the kind mother once made exclusively for chicken fricassee. It was wondrously moist and clinging and made in a double boiler—the perfect foil for a great sauce. This entree was so special, I knew I must return, and soon, to investigate.

On the leather-bound menu of a solo dinner, the chicken on the bone tempted me. The special lobster ravioli with vodka sauce couldn’t be anything but glorious eating, but flank steak with mustard sauce won out. I seem to be in a flank stake mode. But it’s been so very long since it appeared on menus. And here was another version. It had been scored (to tenderize), marinated in wine and/or vinegar (also to tenderize) and was at least a half inch thick and cut in three-quarter-inch strips (not on the diagonal). It was served with an onion Dijon mustard sauce on the side to pour from a petite sauce boat. The garlic-scented mashed potatoes went beautifully. The vegetables, primavera, were long green beans, carrot slivers and zucchini and yellow squash slivers with thin, browned, slices of garlic.

After the dissertation of desserts with chocolate mousse and six tempting ice creams—including caramel, pistachio and cappuccino—I chose a personal favorite, rice pudding. But this was not every-day rice pudding but the 2002 version, risotto pudding. “A fine choice,” commented my waiter. And it really was. Picture this: a huge, flat, wide rimmed soup dish (one perfect for serving risotto) with a four-inch layer of creamy rice pudding topped with delicate scrolls of chocolate and a generous shake of cinnamon. Presentation makes all the difference. But the pudding, I surmised, had been made with risotto technique. It had the same creamy quality that comes from long stirring and the slow addition of liquid.

Right here and now, I must add applause for the espresso, served the old fashioned way with a twist of lemon.

This took place in the porch-like rear of the first floor. A potbelly stove is its distinguishing feature. Tables are white on white with a white candle and bottle of red wine. All chairs have cushy cushions.

Bellagio’s up front bar is an attractive space with a new wooden wine rack for storing bottles. It's conducive to dropping in before heading home.

On Fridays and Saturdays the upstairs is opened. It, too, has a Tuscan look, but it’s a bit more formal and is also used for private parties. At the rear is what is called the “Patio Room,” with waist-high windows all around and a fan in the ceiling.

As I left (taking one of the blue wrapped hard candies—very good) a party of three were taking a cigarette break after the main course, sitting out front.

Bellagio, I learned, is a having a new menu next week. I’ll leave that to you. Check our Chef’s Choice--all new ones.

The Bottom Line

Up scale Italian by LIRR station. North side. Bucolic setting. New menu coming up. Open seven days for dinner. Valet weekends and validated parking, south side lot.

Chef's Choice

Cold seafood salad...$14

Baby greens with pears, walnuts & raspberry vinaigrette...$8

Veal chop Melanaise (with chopped plum tomatoes)...$28

Stuffed chicken breast with Japanese bread crumbs (stuffed with spinach, prosciutto, marscapone, and a Madeira sauce)...$18

Grilled ahi tuna (with red wine/blood orange reduction)...$25

Risotto pudding with berries...$8

Chocolate truffle cake with raspberry sauce...$8

Cuisine: Italian

Setting: Tuscan country

Service: Sincere

Hours: D 7 days

Reservations: Yes

Parking: Valet (weekend). Validated (south side lot)

Dress: Casual

Children: Own menu

Takeout: Yes

Off-premise catering: Yes

Private parties: From 10 to 180

Noise level: Low

Smoking: Bar & front porch

Handicap access: Yes

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