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Caffe Classico Ristorante: Classic Italian food in newly updated restaurant

Caffe Classico Ristorante

76 Middleneck Road Great Neck

516-820-8008

It’s dinner dining now. Caffe Classico changed the atmosphere adding white tablecloths and white cloth napkins—and voilà, Caffe Classico Ristorante. The ambiance remains understated with faux painted stone arches as the dominant feature. On a scale of one to 10 the noise level is eight. Now the small bar in the rear dispenses drinks and espresso.

Classico is still serving focaccia bruschetta, thin crust personal pizzas and panini at dinner along with the dinner menu. The dessert showcase holds 25 temptations. But it’s the dinner menu that excites management most.

It just so happened we three chose salads for our appetizer although melanzane classico is listed under antipasti. And Caffe Classico, with its great bowl salads at luncheon (15 in the $10 range) is just the place to do that. Melanzane scored applause from us because the grilled eggplant rounds topped with slices of mozzarella and sun-dried tomato atop mixed salad greens was still warm. And that made all the difference.

One of the specials was gorgonzola salad and my dining companion ordered that and found it deliciously “gorgonzola-y.” My insalate al finocchio with arugula, diced fennel and chunks of very sweet orange was tossed with lemon, herbs and extra virgin olive oil. It was most refreshing.

The bread deserves special mention. It is that good—wheat not white, dense textured, large, extra thick slices served with butter or oil, if requested.

My companion, a vegetarian by passed the melanzane rollatini

and the melanzane Parmigiana in favor of ravioli à la vodka. The cheese ravioli were tastily bathed with a light pink tomato sauce made with vodka and onions.

I went for veal—a veal cutlet Milanese topped with arugula and tomato. Perhaps it’s my 25 years of food photography which made me appalled with this dish. If it had been topped with the delicious arugula and tomato salad (all diced up) it might have gotten by. Here was a precise oval, thickly breaded (slick and plastered looking) piece of veal dead center, painstakingly ringed with salad, leaving the breaded oval entirely exposed. It looked so cut-and-dried commercial. Everything else seemed to have been prepared by someone who loved food and cooked for the joy of it. (The two executive chefs have been there 10 years.)

Our entree-of-the-evening award went to zuppa di pesce. Never have I seen such a deep, big, white stoneware bowl placed before a diner. It must have been two quarts. The array of seafood in the mixed seafood stew cooked in a plum tomato sauce was bountiful with a sauce nicely spiced.

Diners often leave their table at dessert time, gather before the chilled showcase, peer in intently, trying to make up their minds. Which sweet to choose? Two are homemade, the tiramisu and the flan. y companion had tiramisu and it was a revelation—with all imported ingredients, extremely light and very flavorful sans coffee. The piece was extra large and he loved it and I was duly impressed. My dessert was a six-inch round apple tart and that was very fine as well. It had an appealing homemade look. Bindi imported-from-Italy desserts are there including the favorite berry tart with seven or eight different berries. Espresso is served with a thick lemon twist.

The focaccia sandwiches we saw being served at a table nearby looked enticing. They are $9.25: Focaccia al formaggi with melted fontina, Swiss and mozzarella, portobello focaccia with grilled portobello mushrooms, sautéed onion and basil, focaccia bucconcini with melted mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, focaccia con pollo with grilled chicken, tomato and basil, and focaccia di tuna with white tuna, tomatoes and red onion. The smoked salmon focaccia with cream cheese and mozzarella is $10.25.

And, oh yes, hamburgers and turkey burgers are served with scalloped potatoes. What a Classico idea.

The Bottom Line

Once a caffe, now a full fledged dinner ristorante. Fresh tasting Italian food. Outstanding salads. Dessert showcase holds 25. Focaccia, pannini and four bruschetta, thin-crusted personal pizzas available for dinner as well as lunch.

Chef’s Choice

Melanzane Classico (grilled eggplant with fresh mozzarella, basil & sun-dried tomatoes)...$8.50

Alla Vodka (light pink tomato sauce with vodka and onions)...$14.50

Frutti Di Mare (shrimp, mussels, calamari & clams in marinara sauce)...$16.50

Vitello Portobello (veal cutlet with portobello mushrooms & spinach)...$18.95

Pollo alla Romano (with arugula, mushrooms, red onions & peppers)...$15.95

Melanzane Rollatini (eggplant, mozzarella, spinach, mushrooms, onions, cream sauce)...$14.95

Pesce del Giorno Marcchiaro (sautéed in white wine, onions, capers & plum tomatoes)...Ask

Zuppa di Pesce (mixed seafood stew cooked in plum tomato sauce)...$20.95

Tiramisu...$5.75

Fruti di Bosco (7 or 8 fruits)...$5.75

Cuisine: Italian

Setting: Faux painted arches

Service: Young

Hours: L & D 7 days (2 am Sat.)

Reservations: Yes

Parking: Municipal lot

Location: N LIRR station

Credit cards: All major. No Discover

Children: Personal pizzas

Private parties: To 60

Off-premise catering: Yes

Smoking: None

Noise level: Moderate to loud

Handicap access: Yes

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