Italian still rules as the most popular cuisine in Nassau and Suffolk counties, with new restaurants opening every month. They come in all sizes, styles and price points, from modest trattorias to fancy ristorantes. Here are 10 of the latest crop:
Autentico (124 South St., Oyster Bay): A restaurant with a ton of heart, Autentico is indeed authentic. It’s a partnership between Zac Nudo and Connie Cincotta as well as veteran chef Francesco Pecoraro — his first venture in the United States. Before moving here, Pecoraro had cooked in restaurants in Rimini and Emilia-Romagna, Italy, and his native Sicily. The setting still feels like the bakery it had been in its former life, with a few southern Italian pastries and biscotti near the cash register. In the charming 40-seat dining room, each table has been named after a region of Italy, identified with a framed place card, from Veneto and Calabria to Tuscany, Piedmont and Sicily. The menu is handwritten in a script that emerges from the past, a short list of the night’s dishes, such as Sicilian-style chickpea fritters, panelle that pairs with scrambled eggs and Grana Padano cheese brightened with a squeeze of lemon. Zucchini and pine nuts accent the silver-skinned fillet of orata, in the porgy family. Even if it’s not a special occasion dinner, the experience here will make it so. More info: 516-922-2212, autenticooysterbay.com
La Spezia (400 Glen Cove Ave., Sea Cliff): On Long Island, family-style never goes out of style. Generations have celebrated at local stalwarts such as La Parma, Piccola Bussola and Ciao Baby. In Sea Cliff, La Spezia Ristorante Italiano has stepped up to the big plate. The spacious dining room, with white tablecloths and frescoed ceilings, has been brightened since it was Taormina (and, before that, Allison’s and Amalfi), and what used to be the pizza takeout area is now a comfortable brick-and-marble bar. Owner Dario Gaite said that La Spezia refers to the town on the Ligurian coast in northwestern Italy from which his grandfather emigrated. But the cuisine here focuses on Italian-American classics in big platters and bowls. Virtually everything can be ordered in half or full portions. The former is enough for four people; the latter guarantees lunch the next day. Starters include zuppa di mussels or di clams, and fried calamari (classic or smothered in spicy red sauce). Among pastas, consider paccheri del giorno (giant, Neapolitan rigatoni in a mushroom-prosciutto cream sauce). On Sundays, there’s pasta with meatballs and sausage. Special-needs diners can order whole-wheat, gluten-free or zucchini pasta. Chicken and veal can be had Parm, Francese, Milanese or Marsala. Chicken La Spezia features bone-in pieces with veal sausage, roasted potatoes, broccoli and roasted red peppers. More info: 516-801-4155, laspeziafamilystyle.com
Osteria Leana (76 South St., Oyster Bay): Dishes at the hidden Osteria Leana are easy to mix and match, with portions neither oversized nor skimpy.
A relatively new Long Island resident, chef-owner Peter Van Der Mije has worked under celebrity chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten at Nougatine, Marcus Samuelsson at Aquavit and Dan Kluger at The Core Club in Manhattan. You can see Van Der Mije in the open kitchen just about every night. The small bar tucks into the back corner while a communal table stands at the center of a space that fills up most nights. There’s Sicilian stuffed olives or grilled Montauk calamari seasoned with salsa verde, accented with red peppers and served on roasted Yukon Gold potato salad with olives. Among pastas and main dishes, seared scallops in citrus clam broth is a favorite entree, layered with julienned vegetables. Cacio e pepe is a simple and near-perfect rendition of pasta with olive oil, butter, black pepper and grated cheese. Diners gravitate toward the chittara, an egg pasta that’s a bit like linguine with more texture, served here with a corn-basil pesto, trumpet mushrooms and scallions, and the option to add lobster, which, of course, most people do. More info: 516-584-6995, osterialeana.com
Patrizia’s (1040 S. Broadway, Hicksville): Naples-born brothers Gennaro and Giacomo Alaio began their careers as waiters at Viva Loco in Bellmore before opening Patrizia’s Italian restaurant in the Bronx in 1991. Five Patrizia’s locations and 25 years later, they’ve come back to Long Island, taking over the cavernous space in Hicksville’s Planet Fitness shopping center that was most recently DeBello’s Restaurant & Bar and, before that, Pizza Fabbrica. Patrizia’s starters, $12 to $15, include grilled baby octopus, seafood salad, eggplant rollatini, clams oreganata and stuffed portobello mushroom. Patrizia’s pastas are all less than $20 and include fioretti alla bosciola (homemade “purses” in a mushroom-prosciutto cream sauce), orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage, baked manicotti and baked penne alla Norma. Most mains are less than $24 and include a variety of Parms, Marsalas and Franceses, plus a few steaks, chops and fish fillets. Many tables order the family-style dinner, $50 a person, which includes seven appetizers, homemade pasta, two meat-based mains, dessert, coffee and unlimited house wine or domestic tap beer. Three beehive-shaped, wood-burning ovens, installed by Pizza Fabbrica, put out about 18 pizzas and, before 6 p.m., a dozen panuozzi (wood-oven-baked sandwiches, a Neapolitan specialty). More info: 516-932-1600
Tra’ mici Ristorante Italiano (4913 Merrick Rd., Massapequa Park): Chef-owner Massimo Fedozzi, known for his stints at Pentimento in Stony Brook and the now-closed Vero in Amityville, is now “among friends,” as the restaurant is called in Italian. It is a casual restaurant that reaches out to the discerning diner. Formerly Cavendish & Ross steakhouse, the place is almost through a decorative overhaul. The grilled Caesar and the salumi platter lie among Fedozzi’s signature starters. A no-ricotta Bolognese lasagna is rustic and velvety with béchamel, while fettuccine al doppio burro — the inspiration for fettuccine Alfredo — seduces with butter. Meats include a formidable N.Y. Strip bistecca and veal saltimbocca over spinach. More info: 516-308-7777, tramiciny.com
Trullo d’Oro (294 N. Broadway, Hicksville): The region of Puglia covers the heel of the Italian boot, the Adriatic Sea on one side and the Gulf of Taranto and Ionian Sea on the other. It’s a land of intensely local cuisine, from Bari to Brindisi. And not a lot has been imported to Long Island. Gino and Maria Giannuzzi are trying to remedy that. They own Trullo d’Oro, a warm and appealing restaurant, where they’d also operated La Caravella from 1988 to 2003. In between, the address housed Capriccio, La Primavera and, most recently, Nubon Sushi & Grill. The Giannuzzis gave the restaurant a rustic makeover; the cozy dining room is all full-grained wood, sponged paint, red-and-white checked tablecloths and glistening copper cookware. “Trullo” refers to the distinctive conical-roofed home that is the signature building in Puglia. Many of the region’s other treasures are on the menu here: burrata, a traditional cream-filled mozzarella that has become the cheese of the moment in the United States; and panzerottini, little fried calzones filled with mozzarella and tomato sauce. Hearty pastas such as strascinate Alberobello (shaped like a guitar pick and, here, tossed with broccoli rabe and crumbled sausage) and orecchiette (ear-shaped and served with meatballs) are recommended, along with grilled octopus and, incongruously, an excellent strip steak, sizzling on a cast-iron skillet, with peppers, onions and mushrooms. More info: 516-737-0679, trullo-doro.com
Vespa Italian Kitchen & Bar (282 Main St., Farmingdale): Ben Lo Manto is behind Vespa Kitchen & Bar, the newest sibling to Spuntino and Filetto’s in Suffolk. This is the restaurant he’d always hoped to open, one that reminds him of growing up in his uncle’s pizzeria in Brooklyn.
With an open floor plan, exposed brick and Edison bulbs, you’ll also find details like the long red-and-white bench, a nod to Lo Manto’s mom’s plastic-covered sofa. Sure, there’s pizza here. The roaring wood-fired oven delivers a char-kissed crust dressed with earthy funghi garnished with a handful of arugula. But the menu is more than that. The grilled sausage and broccoli rabe is an honest plate that relies on technique: The greens are blanched, then cooked past al dente, to remove the bitterness before meeting a dressing with oil and brined Moroccan olives. If you have the appetite for it, go big with the osso bucco, a 28-ounce, bone-in pork shank served with green and yellow squash risotto that’s as memorable as the meat. More info: 516-586-8542, vespaitaliankitchen.com
Aria Melanie on the Lake (240 W. Main St., Bay Shore): With a striking view of Lawrence Lake, Aria Melanie, which took over from The Lake House, is far from the concept-driven spots that are taking over the Long Island landscape. It’s akin to an old-fashioned charmer, a polished version of a mom-and-pop. On the menu, pastas stand out, along with the fish, particularly snapper or grouper en papillote. Originally from Priverno, Italy, south of Rome, chef Fabrizio Perinelli knows his way around an Italian kitchen, having worked in his uncle’s trattoria back in Italy, cooking and making pasta. As one would expect, he also learned from his mother, who taught him over the years as they’d prepare Sunday supper. Plan on a leisurely dinner here, where you might start with stuffed figs with cantaloupe and prosciutto, or eggplant caponata, sweet over sour with a red wine reduction. More bar food than modern Mediterranean, fritto misto one-ups fried calamari with the addition of shrimp and zucchini in a honey-chipotle sauce. The roasted cauliflower with raisins, kale and pine nuts satisfies as a starter. And the beef carpaccio is a balance of high-quality meat and greens. If weather allows it, plan on a pre- or post-dinner drink on the stone patio next to the firepit. It’s a lovely and romantic spot. More info: 631-500-9045, ariamelanie.com
Milito’s (315 Walt Whitman Rd., Huntington Station): Mona Lisa still smiles in the dining room of Milito’s. A holdover from the restaurant’s last incarnation, she stuck with La Spada’s chef Emilio Valle when he bought the restaurant and renamed it Emilio’s. Her expression did not change when Emilio’s in Commack strongly urged Valle to change the restaurant’s name. Whatever it’s called, the restaurant remains a dependable spot for Walt Whitman shoppers looking for a fairly priced, unpretentious destination along the busy Route 110 corridor. Seafood starters are uniformly good: grilled calamari coated with seasoned breadcrumbs, baked clams oreganata, little necks Posillipo. Sauteed baby artichokes, a favorite at La Spada, remains, as does cavatelli foresteria, homemade noodles with mushrooms, prosciutto and mascarpone cheese. Other good pastas include mezzi rigatoni Bolognese, with a meat sauce both hearty and subtle. Pappardelle Siciliana, with tomato sauce, diced eggplant, ricotta and basil, also stands out. Milito’s offers Parms in the four basic categories: chicken, veal, shrimp and eggplant. Seaside, shrimp sautéed with garlic, butter, lemon and wine is expertly done, finished with chopped plum tomatoes and basil. Enjoy the Italianate napoleon and cheesecake, as well as cannoli and tiramisu. Fig gelato competes well with a coconut-dusted vanilla tartufo and the more familiar chocolate version. More info: 631-824-6774, emiliosrestaurant110.com
Sophia Italian Bistro (71 Merrick Rd., Amityville): Sophia represents the second generation of two Long Island Italian restaurant dynasties: In the kitchen is chef Enrique Bermeo, who earned 3 1⁄2 stars when he was cooking at Luigi Q in Hicksville; the dining room is the domain of Riccardo “Richie” Sanseverino, formerly of Tesoro in Westbury. Villa d’Avanza was the last tenant of this Merrick Road spot. The new owners gave the dining room and lounge a much-needed update, replacing the 1980s-era décor with lots of warm wood and brick. On the menu, contemporary and classic Italian-American dishes. Start your meal with a trick Bermeo learned from Luigi Q: slender Italian hot peppers, pan-roasted with garlic. Then cool off with the glistening seafood salad of well-dressed shrimp, scallops, squid and octopus. Spinach ravioli, light and tasty, are sauced with fresh plum tomatoes. From the sea, snapper alla Livornese, emboldened by capers, olives, onions and tomato sauce. Whole branzino is roasted with herbs, garlic and lemon. Bermeo also prepares a juicy pork chop, atop hot cherry peppers and caramelized onions; and a diverting, first-class roasted Long Island duck, glistening from an orange-infused demi-glace. Parking note: Driving by, the situation looks bleak, but in fact there is ample parking (and a rear entrance) around the back of the restaurant, behind the neighboring South Shore Auto Sales. More info: 631-598-1150, sophiaitalianbistro.com
— ERICA MARCUS AND MELISSA MCCART