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SHORT RIBS <br> DRINKING DEEPLY OF VENETIAN CULTURE

It opened very quietly about six weeks ago in a long, narrow Delaware Avenue mansion near Virginia Street. And it was still not overly crowded on our recent Friday night visit. But we were thrilled and, frankly, surprised to find cheerful bright colors on the walls and, much more importantly, well-prepared, exciting food on the menu at Bellini's.

We started off with a predinner cocktail. It was a Bellini (did you doubt?) - a famed mixture created at Harry's Bar in Venice as many tourists well know. But it's not often seen around here. The cocktail consists of peach puree (according to the server, actually made in the restaurant itself) and Prosecco, a white lightly sparkling Venetian wine. The drink is light, crisp and not overly sweet; an excellent way to start off a meal. And, by the way, the bread that came along had been lightly warmed and was served with tapenade, a zesty paste made from olives, capers and olive oil.

First courses were good. A traditional Caesar Salad with a large zesty crouton ($5) and Mixed Greens with dried tomatoes ($4) were fresh and sprightly. And the seared Jumbo Scallops each served on a very thin potato slice ($8) was a real winner.

I liked the crunchiness of these great big mollusks - crunchy because they had been carefully breaded with butter cracker meal. And I liked, too, the fact that they were perfectly cooked to the just-tender stage. The scallops were sweet and juicy.

It's been a long time since I've seen short ribs of beef on a menu. At least short ribs cooked as expertly as the Companion's choice ($15.) From Daniel Bolud's recipe, the waiter told us - and this was a waiter who knew every ingredient in every dish. Given that Boulud is the proprietor of Daniel's, a Manhattan-based high temple of the culinary arts, we thought we ought to try it.

Pure velvet, this meat was cooked in an intense wine sauce. And if that weren't enough, the generous portion of ribs was served over mashed potatoes. Comfort food with sophistication.

Also remarkable was the Veal Rib Chop ($22), beautifully presented on the plate. The chop was plumply stuffed with mushrooms and fontina cheese, served with a white wine sauce, pointed up with a little sage. And served over risotto that was just a tad too runny.

A pasta choice was rich and filling. Fettucine with Lobster Bolognese sauce ($23) must have sported a full pound and a half of Maine lobster, with lots of claw meat. It also sported a subtle flavor that was perfectly complementary, but hard to identify.

The waiter knew though. It was tarragon.

The last dish we tried was a special for the evening. Chilean Sea Bass was moist and delicate. The plate looked beautiful, enlivened with bright green asparagus.

Other less expensive entree choices include Italian Chicken ($14), which is really Satimbocca, poultry style. The chicken is rolled around provolone and prosciutto. There's also Bucatini Pasta with sauce made from oven-dried tomatoes, capers and garlic ($12.)

BELLINI'S *** 1/2 *

WHERE: 445 Delaware Ave. (842-1210.) This handsome old mansion has been home to several types of restaurants and is now upscale Italian. The menu is short and tempting. Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.

FAVORITE DISH: Pan Seared Jumbo Scallops with Butter Cracker Crust.

NEEDS WORK: All food of high quality.

PRICE RANGE: Pasta entrees from around $12. Most entrees in $16 range.

SERVICE: Excellent.

HOURS: Dinner only. Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 10.

HEALTHY CHOICES: Pan Seared Atlantic Salmon, Bucatini with oven dried tomatoes, capers and garlic.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: No.

PARKING: On the street.

KID APPEAL: An adult restaurant.

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