2011-03-16 / Restaurant of the Week

LUIGI'S…SINCE 1992

t his timeless Italian restaurant is everyone's neighborhood favorite as evidenced by a packed dining room on an ordinary Wednesday night in March. What's the allure? Consistently delicious Italian cooking under the direction of chef and owner Vincent DiRico combined with a warm, homey atmosphere and friendly, efficient service. Luigi's is so popular, diners travel from Long Island, Westchester and the other boroughs to its New Hyde Park neighborhood, which is conveniently located on Union Turnpike.

The homey dining room is cozy and warm, with rich wood banquettes lined in leather, lit by quaint lamplight that illuminate dozens of black and white family photos, many from Abruzzo, Italy, the hometown of the DiRico family. Along with the family came the family recipes for handmade pasta, sauces, and dishes that bring diners back regularly. The smell from the authentic woodburning oven is intoxicating and renders the best pizza and focaccia around. The house special pizza is the "stracciatella" which is topped with arugula, prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, chopped tomatoes and olives. Buonissimmo! Dip some of the warm-from-the-oven focaccia into their own pesto-infused olive oil that customers have come to insist upon.

Luigi's is an ideal spot for families and groups of friends. Even the restaurant's menu offers antipasti meant to be shared. Choose among bruschetta made with grilled ciabatta bread topped with tomato and mozzarella, prosciutto and ricotta, shrimp and avocado and tantalizing toppings. An assortment of formaggi (cheeses) and salumi (cured meats) also pleases a table of hungry people. We enjoyed the crispy fried calamari, impossibly light and tender, owing to a family secret. Baked clams are a house favorite, topped with crispy bread crumbs, and few can resist the zuppa di mussels with shallots and white wine ($10). Gnocchi "mac and cheese" puts an Italian twist on an American classic with house made potato gnocchi covered in melted fontina and parmigiano cheeses ($10). Choose a bottle of wine from their well-chosen cellar to complement your meal.

Luigi's makes nearly a dozen varieties of handmade, pasta fresco each and every day. To me, there's nothing quite like fresh pasta. Luigi's mezza luna ravioli get their name from their half-moon shape, filled with fluffy ricotta cheese and parmigiano, topped with their famous tomato sauce ($17). Tender pappardelle, wide ribbon pasta, is topped with decadent lobster tail, jumbo shrimp and spinach for an outrageously delicious meal. A classic Abruzzese dish tops this pasta with a rich, slowly cooked rabbit ragu, braised slowly and given a twist from shiitake mushrooms and fresh ricotta ($18). Roman style lasagna is made with sheets of tender pasta layered with béchamel, Bolognese sauce and mozzarella. Vegetarians will love the whole wheat pappardelle topped with roasted eggplant and peppers, spinach, cremini mushrooms and goat cheese. Orecchiete are "little ears" tossed with sautéed broccoli rabe and house made sausage, one of my favorite dishes.

Luigi's uses only the highest quality ingredients, meats, seafood and vegetables. There is no skimping, everything is made from scratch and customers appreciate that and come back for the quality and consistency time after time. I appreciate the excellent service and "no rush" culture. A meal here is meant to be savored, so take the time and enjoy.

The expert chef prepared us a hefty portion of ocean sea bass, prepared scampi style with plump and juicy shrimp in buttery scampi sauce. The fish was so delicious, flaky and tender, it melted in our mouths. The accompanying polenta was so creamy, we couldn't stop eating it along with the slender stalks of tender asparagus. Branzino is another popular fish on the menu, grilled with fresh herbs and served with roasted potatoes ($22). Chicken campagna, veal Margherita and their famous chicken scarpariello offer everyone's favorites. Next time I'll try the braised short ribs with more of that delicious polenta.

For dessert, try the warm apple crostata on flaky pastry with quality vanilla ice cream, créme brulee, strawberry-banana Napoleon or tiramisu, to name just a few. Lunchtime dining offers smaller portions of their famous dishes, as well as big salads, inventive Panini, frittata, pasta and more from $8.75 to $14.95. Just next door, the take-out entrance to the restaurant buzzes with activity seven days a week. Enjoy lower prices on many of the house favorite pastas, main courses, sandwiches, salads and PIZZA, PIZZA, PIZZA from the wood-burning oven.

A swank, private party room in the rear of the restaurant is elegantly appointed and ideal for your party of up to 50 people and is already filling up with bookings for communions, graduations and showers. Luigi's is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner and take out orders from 11am onwards. For a singular dining experience, visit Luigi's with someone special and enjoy the warmth, ambience and excellent food that is synonymous with Italian American cuisine. For photos, menus and more information, log on to their Web site. Salute!

LUIGI'S

265-21 Union Tpke.
New Hyde Park
718.347.7136
TAKE OUT: 718.962.2436

www.luigisny.com

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