A DECADE ago, Italian restaurant meant suave tuxedoed waiters, white tablecloths, fresh flowers and elegant Northern Italian food. That is still true at Bevanda, the newest Italian restaurant in Great Neck.
That trendy team of young servers in bistro aprons, individual designer pizzas from a wood-burning oven and pastas created with ingredients from a myriad of cuisines is nowhere to be found.
The Old World maitre d'hotel is especially gracious and seems to be everywhere, gently nudging waiters into efficiency. One joy of dining on a quiet weeknight is receiving his sharp-eyed concern. When our table devoured the marvelous complimentary bruschetta in record time, he offered seconds.
The super bruschetta shared a plate with chunks of mellow, nutty Parmesan cheese and, unfortunately, black California olives.
On the weekend, there are more specials and a center-stage display of glistening cold antipasti and tempting desserts. But despite carpeting and soft surroundings, the noise level peaks on crowded Fridays and Saturdays.
Bevanda's menu offers not innovation, but classics done with style. This is definitely the place to order Caesar salad. The dressing is mixed in the dining room and is the real thing, not the bottled creamy fraud.
Minestrone, so often a tired cliche, has spunk and a gardener's pride of vegetables. The fish soup is another stellar opener. The tomato-tinged broth sports potatoes and rice and is loaded with impeccably fresh fish and seafood.
Two appetizer specials that satisfied were the cold antipasti and the grilled portobello mushrooms crowned with garlic and encircled with arugula. The selection from the antipasto table included grilled eggplant, zucchini, peppers, artichoke hearts, garbanzo beans, asparagus spears, mozzarella and sliced tomatoes. Only the pale, hard tomatoes disappointed.
The menu's hot grilled vegetables were another hit. The dish had captivating peppers, eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms, but not the shrimp mentioned on the menu.
One unusual pasta at Bevanda is a real memory maker. Pasutice alla Istriana is simple and simply delicious. Diamond-shaped sheets of homemade pasta are coated with a lively mix of bread crumbs, anchovies, garlic and oil. Other pasta successes are the light gnocchi and the fettuccini alla Bevanda, noodles in a creamy grappa-spiked sauce dotted with fresh salmon and sun-dried tomatoes.
The descriptive "alla Bevanda" next to chicken, shrimp, beef, veal or pasta usually indicates a dish with sun-dried tomatoes and a splash of liquor. Shrimp given the alla Bevanda treatment had the added blessing of portobello mushrooms in the Champagne-punctuated brown sauce.
Chicken alla Bevanda was in a similar amalgam, this one finished with Madeira. Other chicken triumphs were the fall-away-tender scarpariello, offered on or off the bone, and pollo giardiniera, a breaded fried breast topped with tricolor salad.
Additional main-course standouts were four baby lamb chops smothered in peppers and mushrooms, perfectly turned-out striped bass adorned with shellfish and a veal special starring scaloppine in a wine sauce garnished with asparagus and a touch of fresh tomato.
Vegetable accompaniments are cooked correctly, but are predictably the same on every plate.
Desserts run to the expected Italians: tiramisu, ricotta cheese cake and tartufo. The tiramisu could have been creamier. The best sweets were a lush Napoleon and a double-rich chocolate-mousse cake.
The 35 or 40 Italian, French and California wines on the list offer commendable variety of price, quality and style. Bottles cost as little as $12. A 1991 Kendall-Jackson pinot noir ($25) is a light, pleasant red with an appealing scent and fruity taste. A 1992 Collavini chardonnay ($17), served far too cold, was disappointingly petulant. Bevanda
570 Middle Neck Road, one mile north of the railroad station, Great Neck. 482-1510.
Atmosphere: Elegant, old-style northern Italian restaurant.
Service: Amiable waiters take the lead from gracious
Recommended dishes: Grilled vegetables, portobello mushrooms, cold antipasto table, minestrone, fish soup, Caesar salad, pasutice alla Istriana, fettuccini alla Bevanda, gnocchi, shrimp alla Bevanda, chicken scarpariello, pollo giardiniera, chicken alla Bevanda, lamb chops, veal scaloppine with asparagus, striped bass, chocolate mousse cake, Napoleon.
Price range: Lunch entrees, $9.50 to $21. Special three-course lunch, $14.95. Dinner: Appetizers, $4.50 to $8.50; pasta, $12 to $16; entrees, $12 to $23.
Credit cards: All major cards.
Hours: Noon to 10 P.M. from Mondays through Fridays, 4:30 to 10:30 P.M. on Saturdays and 3 to 9 P.M. on Sundays.
Reservations: Needed on weekends.
Wheelchair accessibility: No steps