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Cena 081 review: Italian restaurant brings a taste of Naples to Westbury

Starring Italian-American and Italian specialties, Cena 081 sends out favorites in generous portions with hospitable style. It's an upbeat, colorful, satisfying successor to the flashy Chi Dining Lounge. It channels a very different chi. Director of hospitality Lorenzo Abbatiello explains what it takes to make the risotto miscelatore, which famously finishes off in a small cement mixer.  (Credit: Daniel Brennan)

Cena 081

103 Post Ave., Westbury

516-385-3795, cena081.com

COST: $$$

SERVICE: Mostly attentive, always friendly

AMBIENCE: High-decibel party

ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday to Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 9 p.m. Closed Monday. Weekend reservations recommended. Major credit cards accepted. Two steps to dining room; difficult access with wheelchair.

Cena 081's surname is the area code of Naples.

The spirited restaurant has your number, too.

Starring Italian-American and Italian specialties, Cena 081 sends out favorites in generous portions with hospitable style. It's an upbeat, colorful, satisfying successor to the flashy Chi Dining Lounge. It channels a very different chi.

Owner Joe Stasi and executive chef Francesco Perone fashion a restaurant meant to evoke the cuisine of Campania and, equally important, to suggest the flavor of Durazzano, a small town in the province of Benevento, about 19 miles northeast of Naples.

The dining room has a rustic look, decorated with wine imagery and black-and-white familial photos. But your eyes will go directly to a table of antipasti and a scooped-out wheel of Parmesan cheese.

And, since they're trying to summon Naples, you should try one of the thin-crust pizzas from Cena 081's wood-burning oven. If not quite a pizza Napoletana, the pies are tasty and worth dividing either as an appetizer or the prelude to one. Sample the straighforward Margherita.

Keeping with the theme, consider a tasting of fior de latte, burrata and buffalo mozzarella, all recommended, with basil, tomato and olive oil. Or the Neapolitan pleasure of mozzarella in carrozza. Cena 081 turns north with a polenta board, or little bowls of the homey stuff with toppings such as Gorgonzola cheese, peppers and olives,  tomato bruschetta and sauteed mushrooms.

Pick a well-dressed molto Italian-American salad of plum tomatoes, string beans, sliced potatoes, green onions and Gaeta olives. Savor the tender grilled octopus served with stew-like combo of white beans and tomatoes. Enjoy an opener of meatballs with tomato sauce and ricotta.

Allow, of course, for pasta. Linguine with arugula, prosciutto, Asiago cheese and pistachio puree, arrives both full-flavored and light. Linguine alla carbonara doesn't quite  bring you to Rome, but Parmesan cheese boosts the dish.

That wheel of Parmesan is the mixing bowl for spaghetti, inexplicably flambeed with Cognac, and finished  with tomato sauce in the valley of cheese. It's a show that doesn't really work, imparting only the quietest note of Parmesan, as if the pasta wasn't hot enough to melt the cheese into the sauce. Creaminess: absent.

But the kitchen excels with a rich, perfectly prepared risotto sparked by radicchio and Gorgonzola. The porcini risotto also deserves your attention.

The centerpiece main courses, for two or more, are designated "piatti d'autore" — signature dishes. Fried baccala, or salt cod, spurred by anchovies, capers and escarole awakens your appetite.

And the "Sunday sauce" production of braciola, pork ribs, sausages and meatballs atop rigatoni, presented in a heavy-duty black pot, could feed you and your immediate family today and tomorrow.

They do specify this is sauce instead of gravy, as if to advise you in advance about its mild sweetness, rather than elicit memories of the soulful classic Nonna would be up so early to prepare, the long-simmered, meaty sugo, countless pieces of Italian bread, semolina preferred, would be dipped in the pot before it reached the table.

Cena 081 offers a delicate, flaky filet of sole in limoncello sauce and an ample, pleasing bowl of steamed mussels with a lemony accent. Seaside, the alternatives are branzino oreganata and salmon with escarole and beans.

For dessert, look for the tiramisu in a jar, to which may be added a shot of espresso to ensure you get enough caffeine. It's much better than the carrot cake and the chocolate souffle (more like molten lava cake).

No sfogliatelle, no sanguinaccio, no spumone, yet. Until then, for sweets it's Cena 516.

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