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Meridian Kitchen

Chef Gary Lanza serves an assortment of sushi

Chef Gary Lanza serves an assortment of sushi to customers, Vanessa and David O'Brien of Locust Valley, left, and Al and Sue Cornella of Wantagh at Meridian Kitchen restaurant in Locust Valley. (Dec. 3, 2011) Photo Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

Meridian Kitchen is Locust Valley's new high point.

Just north of the railroad tracks, the successor to Bennett's Sushi Lounge pulls you in with a nimble balancing act of Asian, American, continental and fusion cuisines, plus the uncooked fish that have been the lure here. It works.

The once-dim space has been brightened, refreshed and made more comfortable via warm lighting, banquette seating and an emphasis that's more on restaurant than lounge. The noise level mercifully has dipped. And there's Meridian Kitchen To-Go next door, just in case.

This all does seem like a lot of territory to cover. But the earnest crew at this smart, casual place is well prepared.

You'll remember chef Gary Lanza from the departed La Vigna of Greenvale and Bin 23, the eatery and wine bar that preceded Bennett's; and sushi chef Riki Lee, formerly of Hama Sushi in Plainview. Their tag-team combo of the raw and the cooked is consistent and often very good.

This all could have turned into elevated bar food, risk-averse and familiar, with an aggressive push to wine and spirits. But Meridian Kitchen avoids the usual pitfalls.

So, nibble the spicy blackened tuna taco and get a rush of cilantro, avocado, ginger aioli and zesty mayo to complement the fish. Try the traditional gyoza, or fried pork dumplings, and the delicate shumai, steamed shrimp dumplings, both fine. Consider the trio of tuna tartare, in crisp cones, drizzled with hazelnut oil and showered with pine nuts.

These East-West productions deliver a harmonious lesson in geography. Likewise, the tasty, restrained shrimp teriyaki and the plump mini meatballs au poivre. Asian fried calamari means a polite jolt to the crunchiness from hot-sweet-and-sour chili paste.

There are some lapses with little pizzas, which are merely vehicles for toppings -- a dry board on which, for example, you may get thickly cut prosciutto and onion. They seem afterthoughts.

What doesn't is the house's juicy burger, which arrives with sauteed onions. But Emmentaler or Cheddar would gild it more than double-cream Brie does. Also recommended: the generous, meaty penne alla Bolognese and the rosy roast duckling, finished with a glaze of Grand Marnier.

From the busy sushi bar come colorful, imaginative rolls. Sample the Aquarius, with spicy tuna and avocado, and the "perfect storm" with king crab. Or take some heat from the yellowtail-jalapeño plate: lustrous fish detonated with rounds of pepper. Cool off with an arugula salad, capped with shavings of Parmesan cheese.

Desserts doze, with pasty apple brown Betty and bland cannoli. But they revive with a lush chocolate mousse, good mud cake and gelati.

So does dining out in the neighborhood.

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