Actor Joseph R. Gannascoli, best known for his portrayal of a doomed, gay gangster in "The Sopranos," returns to a familiar role on Tuesdays. He cooks at Il Luogo Ristorante.

And the dining room should be mobbed.

Gannascoli was a chef before trading toque for script. He and Il Luogo's executive chef, Marco Jara, make the successor to Paul Anthony's a big-time player on Sunrise Highway.

Il Luogo combines the comparatively new and the fairly old, from the modernist design to the wax-crusted candelabra, the lobster ravioli to the flambéed bananas. It's a restaurant that's comfortable going either way.

Gannascoli's cameo adds to the show the way the first splash of Bacardi 151 ignites those bananas. He's an affable, local guy from East Rockaway. The author of the novel "A Meal to Die For" sometimes may be seen at the bar or genially visiting tables, in addition to his work in the kitchen.

Whichever day you eat here, try the stuffed artichoke, a full-flavored opener packed with well-seasoned bread crumbs, pine nuts, capers and olives, in broth with white wine and lemony gremolata. Stay homey with the rice ball, a major croquette with meat, mozzarella and Bolognese sauce.

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Tender and hearty braised veal tripe, not on a lot of menus hereabout, arrives with black olives, peas, potatoes and country-style tomato sauce, all capped with a layer of béchamel sauce and a gratin of pecorino cheese. Clams casino, stuffed eggplant and mozzarella in carrozza boost the hot antipasto for two.

Il Luogo's pastas are led by a zesty version of bucatini alla puttanesca, sparked by capers, anchovies, eggplant and olives, and some melted mozzarella, because too much is never enough. Cavatelli in Gannascoli's soulful pork-rib ragù also gets your attention in a hurry.

Compared with these, the ricotta-stuffed rigatoni Bolognese seems dull. Lobster ravioli, with sauteed shrimp in pink sauce, is an improvement. But black fettuccine with seafood turns pasty.

Follow a pasta with the pork chop "al inferno," a double-cut number with sweet and hot peppers, olives and roasted garlic; the juicy sirloin steak au poivre; or the Cornish hen cooked "under a brick," with white beans, braised escarole and mashed potatoes.

Seaside, you may catch Gannascoli's plump sea scallops with red pepper sauce; and a fine special of broiled Dover sole, finished with olive oil and herbs.


Cannoli and tiramisu are obligatory finales. But don't dismiss the pyrotechnics of setting fire to fruit. The high-octane riff on bananas Foster, prepared with skill and a wink, is very good.

And the flashy performance suits Il Luogo.