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Squid row: 11 great calamari creations

Calamari salad is one of the squid-based dishes

Calamari salad is one of the squid-based dishes served at the Lemon Leaf Thai Restaurant in Mineola. (Oct. 13, 2010) Photo Credit: Jennifer S. Altman

How many times have you spotted fried calamari on a menu in Nassau or Suffolk? Yes, from Great Neck to Montauk, Long Island is squid row.

The 10-limbed star of the cephalopod wing of the mollusk clan comes in countless sizes, from 1 inch onward. The strange-looking but very tasty catch is an essential part of local fare. They swim into cuisines Mediterranean and Asian, Latin and American. They're served deep-fried and stir-fried, seared and stuffed, baked and boiled, grilled and uncooked.

Here are 11 restaurants where you'll find some of the best.

LA TAVOLA

183 W. Main St., Sayville

631-750-6900, latavolasayville.com

THE CATCH Fried calamari, crunchy enough outside and very tender within, is an appetizer at this delightful, country-style Italian restaurant. Soaked in milk, coated with Wondra flour, fried in canola oil. Paired with spicy marinara sauce and, even better, a lemon-and-horseradish spin on sauce rémoulade.

THE PRICE $10

 LEMON LEAF THAI RESTAURANT

197 Mineola Blvd., Mineola

516-877-1899, lemonleafthairestaurant.com

THE CATCH This welcoming Thai eatery serves a super calamari salad that features tender honeycomb whole squid with tomatoes, fresh mint, onions, basil, lemongrass and chili. The salad is every bit as vibrant in flavor as it is in appearance.

THE PRICE $7.25

CUE NINE

2953 Hempstead Tpke., Levittown

516-796-4600, cue-nine.com

THE CATCH Forget preconceptions. At this stylish eatery within a billiards parlor, executive chef Marc Anthony Bynum puts an exciting spin on fried calamari. His version involves tender-crisp ringlets and tentacles fried with lemon slices and hot cherry and banana peppers, every few bites a mouth-burst of citrus and fire.

THE PRICE $12

GRASSO'S

134 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor

631-367-6060, trattoriagrasso.com

THE CATCH Grilled calamari salad stars during lunch and dinner at the easygoing Main Street mainstay. The tender squid arrives with baby arugula, chopped tomatoes, red onion, basil, extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

THE PRICE $14 for a lunch salad; $12 as a dinner appetizer

TRATA ESTIATORIO

1446 Old Northern Blvd., Roslyn

516-625-2600, trata.com

THE CATCH Stuffed and grilled squid at one of Long Island's top Greek establishments. The kalamarakia is a hot dinnertime appetizer, smoky and savory, plump and particular. The rich flavors come from raisins, olives, corn, feta cheese, watercress and a honey-sundried tomato vinaigrette.

THE PRICE $12

LUCE & HAWKINS

400 S. Jamesport Ave., Jamesport

631-722-2900, jedediahhawkinsinn.com

THE CATCH Chef-owner Keith Luce veils his salt-and-pepper calamari appetizer in the most ethereal of batters, and fries it to a greaseless crisp. The squid comes from the Shinnecock Bay, and it's served with red and green basil right out of Luce & Hawkins' herb garden, along with lemon wedges and a sweet-chili dipping sauce.

THE PRICE $12

THOM THOM

3340 Park Ave., Wantagh

516-221-8022, thomthomrestaurant.com

THE CATCH Kung pao calamari. This puts the "pow" in the squid at the steak-and-seafood eatery. The crisp, fried dish is a sweet-spicy production similar to the Chinese-restaurant favorite made with chicken. Ground peanuts, celery and a union of hoisin, chile-garlic, Thai sweet-chile, sambal and soy sauces define it.

THE PRICE $11.95. It's also available as part of the fixed-price menu.

GREY HORSE TAVERN

291 Bayport Ave. Bayport

631-472-1868, greyhorsetavern.com

THE CATCH Chef Meredith Machemer soaks her squid in milk before tossing it in a cornmeal-and- flour mixture and frying it to a crisp. It's then tossed with olive oil, sweet red Peppadew peppers, oregano (from the tavern's garden), scallions and black olives. It comes with Parmesan garlic aioli on the side and will feed two to four as an appetizer.

THE PRICE $14

MYKONOS

37 Great Neck Rd., Great Neck

516-773-8010

THE CATCH Whether you get it as an appetizer or main course -- solo or combined with grilled shrimp and octopus -- the grilled calamari at this popular Great Neck Greek spot is a treat. The squid is served whole, coming off the grill smoky and tender, glistening with lemon and olive oil.

THE PRICE $10.95 for an appetizer; $23.95, a main; $24.94, a main with shrimp and octopus

GYRO TIME

 354 Larkfield Rd., East Northport

631-266-3300, gyrotimeny.com.

THE CATCH Informal and inexpensive, this little Greek eatery serves up a terrific charcoaled calamari, available as an appetizer or main course. In summer, it makes an ideal topping for the restaurant's bright Greek salad.

THE PRICE $8.75 for an appetizer; $13.50 with rice and Greek salad; $13.75 atop a Greek salad.

Long Island's nuttiest squid 

It was about a decade ago when Tommy Valenti, owner of Piccolo in Bellmore and Carle Place, decided he "needed to get into this fusion game." So he created a dish in which fried calamari is coated in wasabi-spiked terikayi sauce and garnished with cashews and sliced green apples. When it came to christening the dish, however, Valente didn't want to stray too far from his restaurants' Italian-American roots. So he named it after a very famous Italian-American family: the Corleones. "There was no special reason," he explained. "We enjoy 'The Godfather,' we enjoy the dish. And it sounds good: 'Calamari Corleone.'"

A large appetizer portion of Calamari Corleone costs $9.95 at lunch, $10.95 at dinner at Piccolo Ristorante, 2770 Sunrise Hwy., Bellmore, 516-679-8787; 180 Glen Cove Rd., Carle Place, 516-742-7223, piccoloristorante.com. -- ERICA MARCUS

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