Carnival

4900 Nesconset Hwy. Nesconset Shopping Plaza Port Jefferson Station, NY 631-473-9772

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Type: Italian, Restaurant Price range: $ (Inexpensive) Description:

It's an ongoing festival of excess at this fittingly named Port Jefferson Station trattoria with a pizzeria up front. In the bi-level dining room, portions are brontosauran and the garlic doesn't stop. "This looks about right -- for what I would serve my whole family," exclaimed a friend when our waiter set a bowl of pasta fagioli before her. We all took spoons and helped out. Golden in color, this was a rich and garlicky soup loaded with white beans and ditalini pasta.

It was a good thing the soup had arrived promptly, for we might have eaten too much of the chewy focaccia and sliced peasant loaf, which came with herb and garlic-seasoned olive oil and some shaved Parmesan drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

A hot antipasto plate held eggplant rollatine, baked clams, stuffed mushrooms, artichoke hearts and shrimp oreganata. Everything had its own identity and nothing was too bready, often the case in similar presentations. I was less satisfied with a salad of baby field greens with Gorgonzola, a mix that cried out for more ingredients -- some nuts or pear slices, perhaps.

The truth is, given the size of entrees, appetizers are more or less extraneous. Very late one night (Carnival carries on until midnight and sometimes beyond), I ordered eggplant rollatine as a main course. It was a lush and melting dish -- heartier and cheesier than what I had found on the hot antipasto plate, this version bolstered by the unconventional addition of prosciutto. For a side pasta, I upgraded from penne marinara to penne Bolognese. I wasn't wild about the hearty tomato-meat sauce, piquant when it should have been soothing.

In another visit, I found myself wishing the clams hadn't been mushy in an otherwise good and garlicky linguini with white clam sauce. But a friend's spaghetti carbonara -- not the classic Italian pancetta and cheese bound by an uncooked egg, but the typically American cream sauce version -- was rich, smoky and satisfying.

I was more than happy with my shrimp alla Francese, jumbo shellfish fried in a light batter and served in a citrusy beuure blanc. A carnivore I know could eat no more than one of the two mammoth pork chops alla Carnival. Another "alla Carnival" dish starred veal with Marsala wine, mushrooms, onions, prosciutto, artichokes and a melt of mozzarella. The dish turned out to be a lot less weighty in the eating than in the reading.

Speaking of weighty matters, there's the eternal question of having dessert. We ended up with two-house made items -- a slice of very good, moist Italian cheesecake and a cookie-crusted vanilla cream tart, sweet and quite likeable.

Odds are, you'll find a wait on weekends. For many, though, delaying gratification isn't a problem. There's another plus: management allows two to share without a surcharge. When the value-conscious diner considers that even a shared portion may yield leftovers, then a meal here seems, indeed, a carnival.

Reviewed by Joan Reminick, 2/17/06.

Hours: Same menu all day, Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Sunday, noon to midnight.

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Carnival 4900 Nesconset Hwy., Nesconset Shopping Plaza, Port Jefferson Station

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