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BWW Review: TRATTORIA BIANCA: Simple Italian Fare with Flair

Say you have tickets to a Billy Joel concert or a Rangers game, and proximity to Madison Square Garden is a must. Add to that a desire for some good Italian food, and you'll be hard-pressed to find any place closer than Trattoria Bianca at Eighth Avenue and 35th Street.

This contemporary family-friendly eatery has recently undergone an expansive facelift, but has retained its culinary charm and quick access to stadium seating and trains. You'll find traditional Italian comfort food, including thin crust pizza.

The design is Italian Art Deco, with a smattering of food and travel posters on the walls. The ceiling resembles an undulating wave and the lighting is subtle. We were seated at a table for two and almost immediately were served a generous half loaf of Italian bread with a small dish comprised of olive oil, and purees of roasted red pepper and white beans. The olive oil was light on the tongue and the pepper and beans were pleasant, with just a note of spice.

Creative Italian cocktails include five variations of Negronis. A selection of 14 wallet-friendly wines are organized according to region: Italian or "elsewhere." I had an elsewhere-a riesling from the Finger Lakes. My companion chose a nebbiolo from Piedmont. The riesling was pleasantly sweet and the red was full-bodied.

For starters we were tempted by jumbo chilled shrimp, roasted eggplant and crispy fried calamari with peppers and lemon. But we settled on a salad caprese with vine tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, aged balsamic vinegar and basil, and roasted beet salad. The caprese blended tomatoes and cheese nicely and the roasted beet salad with goat cheese, pistachios, pear, fennel and arugula was artfully arranged. Thin slices of beets covered a lightly seasoned arugula salad beneath. The goat cheese had a creamy consistency and the flavorful dressing did not saturate the greens. Both were satisfying.

Thin crust pizza choices include margherita (tomatoes, mozzarella, basil), roasted vegetable (mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini, onions and niçoise olives) and other favorites. For the main event, the pasta dishes all sounded excellent, including the pumpkin ravioli, carbonara, squid ink with shrimp, scallops, tomatoes and sea urchin butter, and basic marinara, for those who prefer a simple sauce.

I was torn between salmon topped with fried celery root with hazelnut and celery root puree or seared sea scallops with acorn squash, leeks and garlic. John recommended the salmon. Done. The puree had the palate-pleasing consistency of mashed potatoes. My table mate chose bucatini all'Amatriciana, with cured port, tomato, hot pepper and pecorino. Other choices are traditional Italian favorites including chicken parmesan, veal Milanese and lamb shank on faro risotto and vegetable pan juices.

If you think you have room (we didn't) try the sautéed mushrooms, parmesan potato wedge, polenta or broccoli rabe.

Desserts and after-dinner libations are tempting-from Sambuca, limoncello, Galliano to warm pear tart with vanilla gelato and caramel sauce, dark chocolate mousse with vanilla gelato and fig sauce, toasted almonds and whipped cream, to frozen lemon with lemon sorbet, mint and a slender shot of limoncello. We simply couldn't resist dessert. The mousse was light and tasty and the frozen lemon sorbet recalled a frozen Italian ice enjoyed on a sultry summer eve.

By the time we were through, the packed restaurant dwindled to a handful of non-Madison Square Garden ticket holders.

After all, Billy Joel was waiting.

Trattoria Bianca is at 481 Eighth Ave., at West 35th Street, 212-268-8460.

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From This Author Naomi Serviss

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