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Vespa Cibobuno: Great Neck’s Vespa Cibobuno offers diners italian lessons

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Vespa is divided into two small stylish dining rooms, both relying more on artistry than opulence to achieve their look. The room where we were seated is themed with old Italian movie posters and ringed with a rail that supports a collection of high end travel and shelter magazines. The effect is engaging. The menu is, as you would expect, thoroughly Italian. Vespa's signature dishes include fresh marinated grilled baby calamari, homemade pastas, "Osso Buco" served with risotto Milanese, and other mostly northern Italian specialties.The waiters at Vespa are as impassive as the host is affable. They take your order with a poker face. When we complained that they brought one appetizer and a salad together instead of both appetizers, followed by the salad, as we would have preferred, their only response was that the other appetizer was coming. When it eventually arrived, they were only mildly apologetic that it was the wrong one. Empty wine glasses were left unfilled until assertive requests were made.Order of appearance aside, the tiny torpedos and tentacle florets of baby calamari couldn't have been more tender or flavorful. The Ciociara, a salad of romaine lettuce with gorgonzola cheese dressing and croutons was fresh and pleasing. The Porto Piu Bello, a portabella mushroom with Italian sweet sausage char-grilled with a splash of balsamic, touch tomato was well executed, but consisted of a lot of mushroom with a lengthwise half sausage the size of a Jimmy Dean. A more generous helping of sausage would have improved the balance.Trenette Aragosta, or spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce and lobster was the pasta special of the day. The zesty sauce was hearty and piquant with visible chunks of garlic and fragrant herbs. The lobster component, a mealy half of a skinny lobster sans claws, made for a measly two mouthfuls hardly worth the effort of picking it out of the shell. The lobster seemed a careless afterthought.Spezzato Paesana, combines pieces of chicken, flamed in cognac, baby artichoke hearts, garlic, mix wild mushrooms and rosemary. This very satisfying dish is served with a melange of roast potatoes, carrots and green beans, giving this dish perfect balance. Osso Buco is a Milanese classic. The name means "bone with a hole" or "hollowed bone". This refers to the veal shank bone with a large and tasty marrow filling. O.B. is often garnished with a tangy gremolata (or gremolada), consisting of a mixture of Italian parsley, garlic and grated lemon peel.At Vespa the Osso Buco is served in the traditional way over risotto Milanese, but without the gremolata. The veal was tender, rich and falling off the bone, but lacked the complexity of flavor that would elevate it to superior. Its rank as one of the priciest entrees here seems excessive. The risotto was not as uniformly creamy as it should have been, and the overuse of saffron gave it an almost iodine-y taste. Some of the excellent mixed vegetables serve with the Spezzato would have rounded out this offering too.Desserts here are very definitely home made. We enjoyed what was billed as a pear/berry tart, which was served in a deep bowl with a dollop of whipped cream. It struck us as more of a cobbler or betty than a tart, but so what? It was a homey pleasure worth the indulgence.The Bottom LineVespa is a bustling and atmospheric spot for northern Italian fare. Their exclusively Italian wine list is well chosen. Their menu even offers a quickie lesson in Italian words and phrases. Learn Italian in Great Neck.Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger's restaurant critic, and author of "Eating Like Queens, A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America's Melting Pot, Queens New York" published by Jones Press. Email her at qnsfoodie@aol.com.CORRECTIONThe correct address for last week's review of On the Grill is 98-102 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills. Their correct hours of operations are Sun.-Thurs. 12 p.m. -11 p.m.; Fridays 12 p.m. - 4 p.m.; closed Saturdays. Their phone number is 718-897-4829.

Posted 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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