Beef braciola, stuffed with pine nuts and raisins, is recommended...

Beef braciola, stuffed with pine nuts and raisins, is recommended at Tony Colombos Italian Bistro in Rockville Centre. Credit: Bruce Gilbert

Sophia Loren famously said, "Everything you see I owe to spaghetti." A caricature of the incomparably molto actress, complete with quotation, takes up an exposed-brick wall almost the length of the dining room at Tony Colombos Italian Bistro.

Basically, order pasta now.

Tony Colombos sends out plenty of it -- though spaghetti itself is represented only as a companion to meatballs. This buoyant restaurant keeps the river of red sauce running, adds a few tributaries and leads to some unlikely destinations.

It's the joint effort of chef Tony Colombo, formerly of Cirella's in Melville and Mannino's in Oakdale, and Art Gustafson, chef-owner of Chadwicks American Chop House & Bar near the Rockville Centre railroad station. They've overhauled the space that recently housed Cielo, which never quite reached the sky.

Filament light bulbs give it a contemporary accent; other illuminations suggest votive candles. There's a suitably kitschy painting of Venice in one corner, and a barrelhead with the restaurant name emblazoned on it above the fireplace. Naturally, in a wood-framed portrait, there are Dino and Frank, who might have liked the "That's Amore" style.

Try the first-class meatballs as an appetizer. The restaurant prepares a meatball burger, too, on a focaccia roll. Pick the ample rice balls, packed with peas and beef ragù. Good short-rib ragù also is an opener, though it tops pasty baked polenta with ricotta and mozzarella. Billed as "crispy," the long-stem artichokes aren't. A pan pizza with prosciutto, mozzarella and more: forgettable.

That evocative dish of spaghetti and meatballs, however, is worthy of "Lady and the Tramp." Penne all'Amatriciana arrives on the sweet side, but satisfying. Pappardelle alla Bolognese, in a nearly pink sauce with Parmesan cream, takes its liberties, though the result is very flavorful. Lobster carbonara risotto never harmonizes.

A sausage-driven spin on Bolognese sauce boosts the hearty house-made lasagna. Crumbled sweet sausage and broccoli raab elevate garganelli pasta. Meat-filled ravioli have heft but need more. The kitchen prepares a major chicken cutlet Parmigiana and a savory pork cutlet Milanese. Beef braciola, with pine nuts and raisins, tomato-sauced and served on garganelli, is recommended.

Bland, cedar-planked branzino isn't. You're better off with a snowy striped bass special, dubbed Provençal, but closer to the Italian coast.

The fennel salad refreshes after your main course. The best dessert easily is cassata, a classic Sicilian ricotta cake.

They point to another observation by the great Loren: "I eat a lot of salad. ... But I like sweets."

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