A Long Island native born into an Italian American family, Joseph Balbo knew early on that he wanted to devote his life to cooking. He honed his skills at the Italian Culinary Institute in Calabria, learning to combine traditional, Old World sensibilities with a New World spirit of innovation. Now manning the stovetops at Porto Vivo, which the New York Times called “Huntington’s latest hot spot,” in 2009, Chef Balbo runs a kitchen that has served numerous celebrities, including Serena Williams, celebrity chef Todd English, and Billy Joel.
The menu brims with familiar yet refined Italian staples, such as lobster ravioli with shaved black truffle and parmesan-crusted veal milanese. The chefs also demonstrate their creativity by glazing pan-seared Alaskan halibut with a yuzu vinaigrette and frying grappa-soaked grapes. To accompany this range of flavors, the restaurant also features an extensive wine list, which earned Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence. The selection emphasizes Italian producers, but it also boasts an array of bottles sourced elsewhere, including rare Californian wines as well as a first-growth bordeaux.
In many ways, the decor dovetails with the cuisine in its elegance and bringing together of disparate yet complementary elements. The clean, modern space features multiple levels, with high ceilings, taupe walls, leather booths, rich wood accents, and exposed brick.
Only 12 tables grace the interior of Bravo! Nader's cozy restaurant space, and Head Chef Nader Gebrin isn’t shy about bustling between them to rattle off recommendations and fist-bump his beloved customers. The convivial chef–who doubles as an avid fisherman–treats taste buds to light yet flavorful dishes that swell with housemade components, such as sweet sausage, creamy mozzarella, and chewy potato gnocchi. Fresh-fish entrees shine on Chef's Nader's lively menu, while meals pair with sips of Old- and New-World vintages from the extensive wine list and conclude sweetly with bites of from-scratch tiramisu.
After sampling the restaurant's fine pasta dishes and health-conscious grilled chicken, guests master the preparation of mouthwatering Italian cuisine for themselves through the restaurant’s fun, interactive cooking classes. Chef Nader leads each lesson, imparting knowledge gained from his studies at a Swiss culinary school and years spent in the restaurant business.
Pomodorino Ristorante Italiano strives to emulate an Old-World trattoria, serving a menu of iconic Italian favorites in an atmosphere where, according to the Long-Islander, “everyone is treated as a friend and regulars are treated like family.” The chefs capture this homey vibe in cuisine form by hand-rolling meatballs, simmering pots of tomato sauce from scratch, and crowning entrees with scraps of imported parmesan cheese. They also fire up a wood-burning brick oven to bake pizzas to a golden crisp and transform lasagnas into melty, cheese-laden meals.
The dining room embraces a similarly casual approach with red-checkered tablecloths and a ceiling-mounted trellis, which supports an intricate web of vines and strings of twinkling lights. The bar area’s shelving extends almost to the ceiling. Bartenders surmount the altitude obstacle by climbing a sliding librarian’s ladder to retrieve the treasures that line the topmost shelves: bottles of spirits and anything Paul Bunyan happened to drop when he was in the restaurant.
The chefs at Zaro's Café import the Mediterranean flavors of Greece and Italy onto plates brimming with Old World flavor. After perusing the extensive menu, dish archaeologists can excavate the Greek moussaka's layers of eggplant, potato, and ground beef doused in a béchamel sauce ($15.50), or an assortment of pastas that includes penne salmon, tossed with asparagus drenched in a roasted-pepper pink sauce ($15.95). Five models of tzatziki-topped gyros putt-putt toward mouths, from traditional to a hot, whole-wheat vegetarian gyro, stuffed with grilled asparagus, zucchini, white onion, and lettuce ($9.25). Neapolitan and square Sicilian pizza pies are available whole or by the slice, and calzones, rolls, and stromboli transport dough-wrapped flavor to mouths directly from the Boot. Or stamp culinary passports with Italian entrees, with classic options including veal marsala—veal medallions as tender as constructive criticism—sautéed with marsala wine and fresh mushrooms ($18.95).
In the kitchens of Torcellos Restaurant, cooks splash wine sauces over seafood, veal, and dishes from an extensive menu of Italian favorites. As traditional or whole-wheat pastas wind around forks, Italian entrees of veal, chicken, and fish fillet sauté in savory wine sauces. Patrons can promote sharing with a catering package, which offers dinner for up to 60 people or a late-night snack for one competitive eating champion.
A silver globe-shaped weathervane, reminiscent of the classic RKO Radio logo, crowns the Carlyle At The Palace's art-deco façade, where geometric shapes and pops of color hint at the glamour within. Through a lobby styled in honor of the Chrysler building, Deco 1600's dining room continues the old-fashioned elegance with votive candles and a wall of beveled mirrors.
In the kitchen, chefs captained by restaurateur Steve Carl craft panini and pizza lunches, then simmer short ribs in chianti, slather racks of lamb with minted pesto, and slow-cook risottos of the day for dinner. Wines imported from Italy, Argentina, and France complement meals, as well as doff their corks in Deco 1600's sleek upstairs event space, where white-leather banquettes, chandeliers, and foiled wallpaper set a chic scene.
Inspired by their travels throughout Italy and the Mediterranean, the Ferrara and Gironta families decided to bring a bit of the Old World home by opening Serata—a restaurant committed to Italian cuisine made using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. Housemade marinara sauce and imported prosciutto evoke the flavors of Italy, but the chefs depart from tradition by introducing their own modern spins on time-honored classics.
Much like the menu, the decor toes the line between traditional and contemporary. The dining room resembles an Italian cottage, surrounding diners with brickwork arches and faux Tuscan plaster walls. Simple wooden tables and wrought-iron chandeliers add to this rustic charm, but the restaurant's spirit changes drastically after the sun sets.