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Cipollini

2110C Northern Blvd. Manhasset, NY 516-627-7172

Cipollini is in the east end of the

(Credit: Nicole Horton)

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Critic rating: 2

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Type: Italian Special features: Bar scene Price range: $$$ (Expensive) Description:

Casual restaurant and bar serving upscale Italian food.

Hours: Mon-Fri: noon-11 p.m.; Sat: noon-12 a.m.; Sun: noon-10 p.m. Credit cards: Accepted
2

 Cipollini opens as the fashion plate of the Miracle Mile. Lights, camera -- trattoria!

Theatrical and cinematic, bright and buzzing, the new sapore di l'Americana entertains with aplomb and feeds with flair. It's a witty, enjoyable show.

The players include aspiring Armaniacs and potential Prad.a.philes, winding around the stylish staff, lining up from midday to midnight to nibble on very good food and flash some leather.

But Cipollini isn't simply about the signore who lunch. After all, it's paninied between Gap Kids and Coach. So, you'll find very contented children and their families diving into the pastas on a Sunday afternoon.

They're doing so at the address where the most recent indulgences were the pastries, chocolates and Champagne of restaurant Payard.

You may begin bubbling with a near-fizzy Bellini, a reminder of the prosecco-and-peach beverage immortalized at Harry's Bar in Venice -- an establishment that Cipollini, in its woodwork, lighting, and maximum use of minimal space, in some ways tries to evoke. The house's namesake aperitif tartly substitutes blood orange for the peach.

It's possible to consume a couple of them before you're seated. At any hour, Cipollini seems as popular as the Barneys warehouse sale, complete with spillover to the parking lot. There are a few outdoor seats.

The dining room overflow always fills the bar, where meals also are served and television provided. One evening, a TV perched above the bottles was unspooling the warm smile of "Roman Holiday," followed by the brilliant gaze of "81/2."

Cipollini's own performance understandably begins at the pizza oven, where you'll spy a master and his airborne pies-in-progress. They're light and right, especially the robiola-covered disc slicked with truffle oil. Or try the pizza with fontina, arugula and prosciutto. Enough pizza Margheritas fly around Cipollini to double as place settings.

A glistening seafood salad and an appetizer of seared tuna, cut to postage-stamp size and set on fennel salad, are refreshing openers. Tuna tartare, however, may remind you of well-oiled, chopped sashimi. Acceptable, but not a zesty version. Creamy fennel soup has a hint of anise and a centerpiece garnish of greenery. More rustic and flavorful: mellow escarole and bean soup.

The wild mushroom ragu is fine, on a mound of creamy, savory polenta. But a starter of fried artichokes veers toward acidic. And the thin zucchini-and-mint frittata, under a tricolor salad, trails the rest.

Expertly prepared, lush spaghetti alla carbonara delivers a Roman accent. But orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe needs more seasoning. Just salt would help. The rich risotto, with duck confit, peas, onions and a truffle note, is excellent.

Whole, roasted branzino, split and modestly herbed, swims in moist and good. Swordfish Livornese comes across as separate ingredients, all respectable. But it's not a harmonious dish. Pan-seared salmon, on a mound of broccoli rabe and white beans, hits the snooze button.

Cipollini's crisp, generous veal Milanese and tender filet mignon are easily recommended. Likewise, the juicy lamb chops. They both deserve a side dish of herbed polenta. The rosy duck breast, paired with duck bresaola and raisins, could use an eyedrop more of the advertised "aged balsamic."

The desserts star an espresso-driven, luxurious tiramisu; and a fragile, silky panna cotta. The tiny Colosseum of a chocolate tart benefits from a scoop of pistachio gelato. And Greek yogurt, drizzled with honey and flecked with walnuts, is simple and ideal.

Lemon and raspberry sorbets and anisette and chocolate-hazelnut biscotti are apropos .finales. The cheesecake invites a comparison not to the classic Italian but to the essential Junior's.

That shouldn't be surprising. Cipollini knows its onions. --Peter M. Gianotti, 4/24/05