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I Dined It My Way

Eat, drink and be Frankie!

BY OLD BLUE EYES

There are places in Orange County that look Frank, sound Frank and are even named after Frank. Hell, if I had known so many joints were going to use me to get butts into their seats, I never would have croaked. Give me a piece of the action, baby!

The latest is Buca di Beppo, a family-style, southern-Italian-immigrant-themed restaurant. Think Olive Garden with edible food. Almost every square inch of wall space at Buca di Beppo (which every goombah knows means "Joe's Basement") is covered with framed photos. There are shots of Sophia Loren (had her), Italian street scenes, Old World families, Mona Lisa in curlers (had her) and various guys I had rubbed out. And there are lots of nuns, including a picture of a bunch in bumper cars (had . . . uh . . . let's move on).

The hostess (wanted her) took me and my two chicks—always two chicks, fella—to a large table. This was the perfect place to view the "first-ever Frank Sinatra table." You probably expected me to sit at the Sinatra table. WRONG! How could I gaze at the large portrait behind the booth of the Chairman of the Board in a tuxedo, lit up with a baby spot? My old blue eyes follow you around the room—just like those black-light Jesus portraits. Smaller shots of me surround the booth, which would fit the entire Rat Pack unless we brought our broads, in which case Pete Lawford and Joey Bishop would have to wait in the car with Sammy.

Our waiter—a tall blond gasser who kept talking with his hands and using a fake Italian-American accent—took our order. I stayed away from the hard booze (doctor's orders now that I'm dead) and went with a water glass filled with Chianti ($6.95), which comes from Buca's own winery outside Florence. It went down nice, with Dino's "Volare" blaring out of the loudspeakers.

"Tell everyone the caesars are the best," one of my chicks says over my excellent rendition of "I've Got You Under My Skin" (the cats in the studio were on that day). I'm ready to backhand her for speaking out of turn when I bite into the salad: freshly chopped romaine lettuce without that stored-in-a-plastic-bag taste, covered with fresh Parmesan, homemade croutons, a pinch of pepper and a light coat of dressing. It's platinum, pussycat (small portion, $10.95), but something's missing. The freakin' chick ordered it without the anchovies! Here comes that backhand!

I sent her to the powder room to clean up her face and ordered the Pizza Bianca ($14.95), which comes with Gorgonzola, provolone, mozzarella and Romano cheese. Remembering the anchovies thing, I got the red onions on the side. Chicks are wimps. I had garlic, anchovies and red onions swirling in my mouth the night I nailed Ava Gardner.

Some opera crap was playing when Blond Boy put two yellow cans of Mancini's red peppers on my table. I immediately grabbed him by the lapel and shouted, "I didn't order those, Jack! You trying to pad my bill?" He quickly apologized and explained the cans were needed to hold up the pizza platter. I forgave him once I bit into the light, airy white crust, which was as thin as the cover on one of my albums with Nelly Riddle.

Craving pasta, I ordered the linguine with clam sauce (small portion, $12.95). The white sauce was very spicy, but not overpowering like Bob Goulet's butchering of "What Kind of Fool Am I?" And it was the perfect amount of sauce, just enough to stick to the thin pasta with no residue on the plate.

The prices may sound steep, but all the portions serve four to five people, so we had enough leftovers to feed Rickles. And each table includes a water glass filled with toothpicks—the thick ones in paper. Classy, baby! 13390 Jamboree Rd., Irvine, (714) 665-0800. Open Mon.-Fri., 5-10 p.m.; Sat., 4-11 p.m.; Sun., noon-9 p.m. Dinner for four, $25-$45, food only. Full Bar. AmEx, Discover, MC and Visa accepted.

Other Sinatra haunts:

Azteca Mexican Restaurant. I don't know about the food. The closest I ever came to eating Mexican was a hat girl at the Sands. But the restaurant's Crooners Lounge features Sinatra impersonators every couple of months. 12911 Main St., Garden Grove, (714) 638-3790.Frankie's Place. Enjoy a Hoboken Hoagie or Frankie's Favorite Lasagna under photos of me with Cary Grant, Tony Bennett and those Rat Pack leeches. 18041 Magnolia St. (behind Arco), Fountain Valley, (714) 593-9879.Maggiano's Little Italy. My "made" friends voted this the best place in Orange County to pull off a mob hit. 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 546-9550. Mama Mia's Italian Restaurant. Around 9 p.m., a young waiter pushes out a karaoke machine and sings my songs. Unfortunately, no one can do them my way. 3408 Via Oporto, Newport Beach, (949) 673-7679.
 
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