Take all-American steak and sides. Sprinkle in some colorful entrees that hit on poultry, chops and whole fish. Add a helping of far-out sushi roll creations ample enough to level Martha Rae. Present a gazillion bottle wine list highlighting steakhouse cabs and sakes with some playfully named cocktail creations. Finally, add a sexy atmosphere and lively bar and lounge scene with blaring music and BA-BAM!!! Now you’ve got the modern-day steakhouse…or sushi and steakhouse…or Thursday night mea(e)t-market…or glorified venue for refurbished surf and turf. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a successful formula for merging the old favorites of steak and seafood in a trendy new fashion.
I suppose I’m still spring-boarding off my recent blog post on New American cuisine. Long Island restaurateurs continue to blur the culinary lines and merge cultures with these latest land and sea venues, a favorite theme of the Scotto Brothers, who currently dominate the steak-and-sushi market with Blackstone in Melville, Rare650 in Syosset and now Insignia in Smithtown. I recently reviewed it in Woodbury Magazine and the meal was certainly worth the drive. North Shore-ites can find a similar vibe, menu and array of Thursday-night mea(e)t-heads in Nassau County with Blackstone and Rare. Just know this before you go: chopsticks are no match against their super-sized specialty rolls!
When I was assigned to write a restaurant review for Sugar last summer for the Fall issue of Woodbury Magazine, located in a strip mall in Carle Place, I have to admit I was skeptical. It replaced the lackluster “Ciao Baby” family style Italian restaurant and touted the melding of cutting-edge cuisine with rousing nightlife. After dinner hours, tables are cleared and the floor is opened up for diners to dance off their sumptuous fare. A brilliant idea, if done right. Think about it. You’ve just finished a delicious meal of tapas or full entrees (your choice) and all you have to do is roll your full body off a comfy chair, grab your saccharine-themed cocktail, enjoy a laser light show, then dance to booty shakin’ tunes. Heaven for Girls Night Out. Just replace froofie chick libation with vino, por favore.
The night before my review, I wondered – is it really possible to marry cutting edge cuisine with fabulous nightlife and not miss a beat, right here on Long Island? I don’t have to schlep into Manhattan to club anymore? Ok, I haven’t done that in 20 years, but so what…I now have the option right at my doorstep!
Surprisingly, Sugar proved to be a worthy dining experience. Chef Hok Chin put together an innovative menu that spanned several types of cuisines. At 10pm, the light show kick off some phat beats (ok, it was Friday “Corporate Night,” so the beats were baby phat). We boogied big time. Great food: check. Dancing: check. Sweet!
A week later, I went back with a girlfriend on a Saturday night. The food was still outstanding, but the nightclub vibe had shifted to a 6-inch heeled and cologned menagerie of twenty-somethings. We had fun, but I think I’ll stick with “Corporate Night.” Times have changed. I never thought I’d type that out loud.
One of my favorite things to do is visit the North Fork of Long Island. I fell in love with the region about 12 years ago when pumpkin picking during harvest season. Fall was in the air, along with the smell of roasted corn, Briermere’s pies and festive music coming from Palmer Vineyards. The strum of banjos beckoned our group inside.
I remember sitting on the deck that day with glass of wine in hand, listening to sweet harmonies while I gazed out on the perfectly placed rows of plump red and white grapes. While the sun warmed my face I thought, “Does it get any better than this?” Actually, it did. The only thing that was missing was baguettes and cheese. So, on my next visit to the NOFO, I loaded up on goodies from the Village Cheese Shop in Cutchogue on Love Lane prior to vineyard hopping. I explored the area more and more each time I went out, and there was always more to see.
Some years after I took a job writing for the Long Island Wine Gazette, and I discovered more vineyards, met important winemakers and covered some monumental vineyard events. I began to learn all about the wine making process. And I tasted a lot of wine because that’s the only way to learn each grape’s distinct characteristics. It takes lots of practice, but I’m willing to devote even more time on the NOFO and continue to taste, taste, taste. Ah, the sacrifices we make for love…
I love Turkish cuisine. The creamy hommus, smoky babaganoush, and warm pita served like comforting blankets with delectable yogurt sauce….yum. Just the thought of swiping bits of the thin bread through these dips makes me want to run to the nearest Mediterranean restaurant (and I haven’t yet mentioned the hot appetizers and entrees!). Yes, my dears, Miss Ciao can be happy dining on pita and dips alone! That is, until my eye catches a colorful entrée at the next table. “Waiterrr!!!”
There were many things I loved about writing this review. First, the flavors and dishes were simple, fresh and a stray from the usual, and trying new dishes is what I’m all about. Second, Tava wasn’t as casual an atmosphere as most Mediterranean establishments. Thought went into the vibe and décor, which was decidedly chic. And our hosts were nice, welcoming and attentive. And no, they did not know I was reviewing them. How about that.
Many fine restaurants choose a hot spot as a major ingredient for success. Let’s face it, would you rather dine waterfront or storefront? The uniformity of a shopping center doesn’t exactly lend itself to a romantic dinner. But in recent years, the strip mall has given home to many a fine establishment with good food, attentive service and the convenience of ordering a prescription prior to meeting a friend at the bar. And look! There’s an Annie Sez! I can get some new jeans after my meal! That is, if I don’t overdo it on the frites…
After my review, Brasserie Cassis became my neighborhood “place” for a while. I was addicted to their garlic and white wine mussels, clams provencale, and those darned salty, crispy frites. I even became a fan of chicken liver pate. So good with that crispy French bread…
And believe it or not, when the French doors are open and the breeze pours in on a beautiful day, it’s slight escapism – minus the horn honking and car exhaust, of course. Nonetheless, Cassis manages to uphold charm in the midst of strip mall uniformity.