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WHAT'S NEXT FOR PALIO?

It changed the menu, it changed the price point. Now, Palio may be changing ownership. Following up on a few reader tips, I called Palio's owner, Tom Graziano, and he confirmed that, while the restaurant isn't officially on the market, he is "talking to people who have expressed interest."

Graziano is currently in the process of opening a restaurant in Brooklyn, where he lives, and says running two places would be stretching himself thin.

Since it opened in October 2008 - and promptly earned three stars from Newsday's Peter M. Gianotti - Palio has struggled to find an audience. Initially, executive chef Massimo Fedozzi was serving some of Long Island's most modern and creative Italian food (e.g., risotto with blueberries and Dolcetto wine, baked polenta with truffled fonduta); but, as the economy went into free-fall, Palio began to retool. In April 2009, Graziano took the unprecedented step of offering two nights of free dinners in an effort to attract new customers. Then the regular menu prices came down. For two weeks in August, Palio cut its food and wine prices by 50 percent.

In September, the restaurant rolled out a new, more moderately priced menu featuring clams oreganata - a dish Fedozzi once swore he'd never serve - spaghetti and meatballs, linguine and clam sauce and much more chicken.

Maybe a new owner will have better luck.

Palio remains open at 399 Jericho Tpke., Jericho, 516-443-9100.


Gluten-free Italian

I recently stopped by Café Rustica in Great Neck to sample the gluten-free menu that the 17-year-old restaurant introduced during the summer. The kitchen makes its own gluten-free pizza (very respectable) and uses bread from the same dough to make breadsticks as well as the bread crumbs that grace the gluten-free Parmigianas and Franceses.

The pasta was really the star of my lunch. I was bowled over by a bowl of gluten-free fusilli (made from corn by the Italian company Le Veneziane) that was indistinguishable from good "regular" pasta.

Café Rustica is at 200 Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck, 516-829-6464.


Huntington dinner whodunit

Murder meets macaroni March 12 and 13 at Mangiamo in Huntington. The Italian restaurant will host two evenings of the Mayhem Theater Company's presentation "Mayhem Manor," a murder mystery comedy with audience participation.

Your tab of $49.95 buys a ticket for the show as well as a five-course dinner, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Those with a keen eye for clues, take note: A prize will be awarded to the best detective in the audience. Advance reservations are required. And even if you don't plan on attending, it pays to know that Mangiamo is running a 20 percent discount on food (not drinks) Monday to Wednesday nights.

Mangiamo is at 15 New St., Huntington, 631-421-4600.

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