Christmas is a very big deal for Salvatore's Italian Gardens. It shimmers brightly for the holidays. The front lobby glimmers in white and silver -- reindeer and icicles and nonthreatening snow galore. Not for nothing has this restaurant been known across generations as the place to go to soak up the festive spirit. The many dining rooms carry out the theme -- some are more lushly done than others, but all are prettily adorned.

The dinner menu of popular standards at Salvatore's is almost as extensive as the surroundings. And, to be honest, some of the prices are, too. What's it to be? A 16-ounce N.Y. Strip accompanied by salad, Parmesan rappini and "homemade Anna style potatoes" for $38? Osso Bucco for $34? Braised Short Ribs with Risotto for $31? A Lobster Tail for $57?

This is no place for Ebenezer Scrooge.

Admittedly, there are a few dinner entrees priced in the upper $20 range but, after a fine ala carte appetizer called Millionaires Medley ($12 for a pretty platter of one crab cake, artichokes francaise, shrimp scampi, stuffed mushrooms and two clams casino), we opted for the "Three for Thirty-Three" promotion because it's a better deal. It offers a salad course, a choice of nine entrees (including Chicken Marsala, a 14-ounce Pork Chop, Tilapia Francaise, Pasta Bolognese, Lasagna) and a limited dessert selection for exactly that -- $33.

We started out on a pretty high note. Both the Caesar Salad and the House Tomato Vinaigrette Salad were well prepared and fresh. The companion's $33 choice of prime rib was tasty and served medium rare as ordered, even though the server told us he couldn't guarantee the state of doneness. (At 7 o'clock in the evening three weeks before Christmas? Come on. We're not exactly talking Mom & Pop's Corner Diner here.)

But my choice from that same menu, called "Salvatore's Classics," a triple assortment of well-known specialties left me cold. Steak Russell, sliced tenderloin with sauteed mushrooms, was soggy. Chicken Milanese, a breaded breast topped with tomatoes, arugula and onion, vied with the White Truffle Gnocchi in the So-What Department.

Those house-made Potatoes Anna were thinly cut and delicious. But a half carrot served alongside them was disconcertingly raw, obviously added just for color, and the Parmesan rappi was limp. In other words, this so-called classic entree is a mixed bag.

Now comes dessert and there are about eight to choose from with the $33 deal.

The Chocolate Caramel Brownies topped with Organic Sea Salt is best and a little bit different from the usual ho-hum.

But you will pay a little extra for Salvatore's Chocolate Chip Cookies and a dish of ice cream ($8 extra). And -- may Santa forgive me -- those cookies aren't all that great.




2 1/2 stars (out of 4)    

WHERE: 6461 Transit Road, Lancaster (683-7990, Large and lavish, this very popular business, famous for its displays and decor, features a menu of restaurant standards. Credit Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.    

FAVORITE DISH: Roast Prime Rib    

NEEDS WORK: Steak Salvatore    

PRICE RANGE: Dinner entrees with sides from $32. "Three for Thirty Three," three-course dinner, $33.    

SERVICE: Mostly good.    

HOURS: Dinner, seven days 5 to 9:30 p.m. Holiday lunch served until Dec. 23. Holiday Sunday brunch until Dec. 18. Other special Sunday brunches served throughout the year.    

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: cf,gari,9.5,10.5 Yes    

PARKING: In the lot.    

RATINGS: Stars reflect the overall dining experience with greatest weight given to quality of the food.