Defining the Classic Trattoria
Trattoria & Bar

Aug 5, 2005

CIPOLLINI defines trattoria. This Manhasset newcomer, which replaced Payard, is not a fancy spot even though it is owned by Gillis and George Poll, who also run the nearby Bryant & Cooper, one of Long Island's best steakhouses. This is no ristorante with white tablecloths and hushed service.

Trattoria implies casual surroundings, and Cipollini complies. Floors are tiny white tiles, tablecloths are covered with paper and a wood-burning oven turns out pizzas. Walls are covered in dark wood paneling, and massive framed mirrors make the long, narrow space seem larger.

But these hard surfaces create a noise level that requires diners to shout just to be heard by their tablemates. Add the cacophony from those waiting in the bar, and you have a rollicking spot. It is hip, hot, loud and fun, but not relaxing. Go for the scene, not to be soothed.

One night, about a dozen model look-alikes adorned the bar before being paraded to their table. Other tables were filled with North Shore power brokers who waved, blew air kisses to one another and table-hopped. Still others were occupied by families -- the parents could relax because their small children couldn't be heard or disturb anyone.

Service was as casual as the ambience. The waitress and waiter we were assigned were sweet and attentive. Still, the silverware had to last the whole meal, and diners who surrendered their forks after their appetizers regretted it when entrees were delivered.

The kitchen was speedy, and at midweek the meal was well paced, but on a busy Saturday, it was a bit rushed. That night, the pizza we were still enjoying was whisked away to make room for other appetizers.

Be sure to try one of those thin-crusted pizzas. The sausage, roasted pepper and garlic-oil version was a standout.

Although most meat and fish entrees are $20 or so, there are enough lower-priced selections to ensure that your bill will not rival the national debt. Pizzas and pastas are in the mid-teens, and panini and the burger are $12.

Two standouts among the pastas were the pappardelle in a rich, cream-touched veal ragout and the very tasty spaghetti carbonara dotted with peas. Sandwiches were made with ciabatta rolls, then pressed on the grill till their cheese melted and they were toasty.

The best entrees were the moist and flavorful roasted whole branzino and the chicken scarpariello served on the bone in a lush brown sauce rife with rosemary and whole cloves of garlic. The veal and lamb chops were juicy and cooked to order but were not the thick steakhouse versions.

Pay attention to the risotto of the day. We tried a winner with meltingly soft pieces of rabbit and nubbins of carrot, asparagus and cipollini (the only namesake onion encountered).

Appetizers are expensive, especially when compared with the other prices. Except for soups and the mixed salad ($6), they hover around $10 and top out at $15. The standard Caesar salad, for example, was $9.50, and a delicious but small seafood salad was $14.50.

We loved the wild mushroom ragout and its bowl of creamy polenta and the big platter of fritto misto. It included crisp and tender calamari, crunchy popcorn shrimp and thin sticks of fried zucchini. The artichoke fritti (which was grilled, not fried) was delicious: three fresh artichoke hearts crowned with a confetti of tiny cubes of garlic and cheese.

Desserts were $7, made in-house and worth ordering. The cheesecake was the creamy New York style, not the Italian version; the tiramisù was a big creamy square, the chocolate tart was a large circular pastry filled with ganache and paired with a scoop of pistachio gelato. The panna cotta, though, was easily outclassed by thick, tangy Greek yogurt topped with honey and chopped pecans. And a bowl of raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries topped with a big dollop of whipped cream was even better.

Cipollini 2110C Northern Blvd., Americana Shopping Center, Manhasset, (516) 627-7172

Very Good

ATMOSPHERE -- Hot, hip trattoria.

SERVICE -- Casual yet attentive.

SOUND LEVEL -- Very loud.

RECOMMENDED DISHES -- Seafood salad, fritto misto, artichoke, sausage pizza, rabbit risotto, pappardelle, spaghetti carbonara, whole roasted branzino, chicken scarpariello, tiramisù, cheesecake, chocolate tart, yogurt, mixed berries.

WINE LIST -- 54 still wines equally divided between Italian and American ($25 to $300), with 15 under $30. A separate drinks menu lists 12 bottles under $30 and also offers them as quartinos ($9 to $12), which provide one and a half to two glasses.

PRICE RANGE -- Appetizers $6 to $15, panini $12, pizzas $14 to $19, pastas $14 to $21, entrees $17.50 to $34, desserts $7. At lunch, a few salad specials are added to the dinner menu.


HOURS -- 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, to midnight Friday and Saturday.




RATINGS -- Extraordinary, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Satisfactory, Fair, Poor. Ratings reflect the reviewer's reaction to food, ambience and service, with price taken into consideration. Menu listings and prices are subject to change.