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On the night that we ate at Montebello the waiters sang "Happy Birthday" three times. To mark a celebrat ion by a large group, they also ceremoniously and in unison lifted the domed lids from the entrees at one big table. Sounds pretentious? It wasn't. Montebello is small and quiet with contemporary and unobtrusive decor, a fine setting for a special evening .

There are, of course, scores of restaurants in mid-town serving good food. Montebello compares favorably with other Northern Italian fare we've tasted in New York. We had some delightful starters, half-portions of pastas like spaghetti with seaf ood and white and green noodles in cream sauce with peas and prosciutto. Main courses of lamb chops with wine and herbs, liver alla Veneziana, red snapper and veal with artichokes were equally agreeable. Portions were enormous. Cheesecake and tirama su we re tasty and all the desserts on the cart looked tempting. No major flaws here. If we wanted to nit-pick we would say that the bread could be improved with some crusty, hearty varieties.

Montebello, 120 E. 56th Street, New York, NY 10022. Open for lunch Monday to Friday and dinner Monday to Saturday. Expensive.

Fall 1995