From the 150-gallon saltwater aquarium, iridescent tropical fish gaze out onto the cushy crescent-shaped booths and mahogany wood tables of the Black and Blue Seafood Chophouse dining room. Soft lighting and a crackling fireplace illuminate a handsome mahogany bar as bartenders top off glasses of fine wines. Meanwhile, chefs sear cuts of certified Black-Angus beef Argentine steaks, and sous chefs and self-hating mermaids fold organic ingredients and fresh seafood into lobster bisques, creamy pastas, and Spanish-style paellas?dishes lauded by Long Island Food Critic. Throughout the week, the restaurant plays host to a variety of live performances by popular local musicians.
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.
A close look at the truffle selection tells you that XO Restaurant ? Wine & Chocolate Lounge walks the tightrope between classic tastes and reinvention. Seated near the upstairs fireplace, you can sample a set of housemade chocolate truffles in classic milk, dark, and white variants, or nibble truffles dressed up as childhood treats such as oreos and s'mores. Alongside indulgent fondues, these desserts lend sweetness to the romantic atmosphere of the lounge, where live music plays every Friday and Saturday night.
Downstairs, the scene swings to a chic, brick-lined restaurant. The same spirit of experimentation is present in the menu, though: lobster pot pie, lamb and feta burgers, and flatbreads with toppings of fig and prosciutto are just a few of the kitchen's elegantly plated New American dishes. Wines have been sorted into flavor profiles such as "full-bodied and robust," saving patrons the trouble of asking each bottle for a character reference.
Husband-and-wife team Ali and Nazifa acquaint American palates with Afghan flavors through accessible fusion fare—with many vegan options—that has caught the printed eye of the New York Times. Cushion-covered benches grant comfort, and glasses of wine complement entrees. The eatery’s framed art hangs on exposed-brick walls instead of over an art museum’s embarrassingly outdated Chuck Norris poster.
For Mark Salese, old family recipes aren't sacrosanct, but they are important. According to the Long-Islander, Salese's grandparents immigrated to the United States from Naples, Italy, bringing a trove of their traditional recipes. At Almarco Italian Grill, he uses those dishes as jumping-off points, adding his own twists for a menu of pastas, pizza, and meats that blends tradition with innovation. Appetizers include a bruschetta sampler with seasonal toppings and chopped, baked littleneck clams topped with seasoned bread crumbs in a white-wine-garlic sauce. Those same clams make their way onto the baked-clam pizza, where they’re paired with melted mozzarella. Pasta shells are stuffed with seasoned ricotta, lobster ravioli bathes in garlic cream sauce, and pan-fried shrimp parmigiana is plated with linguine.
At Vitae Restaurant & Wine Bar, executive chef Keith Davidson puts a contemporary spin on continental fare from filet mignon to crab-crusted sole. Davidson's appetizers in particular have an international flair?beef tenderloin medallions come with hand-stretched tandoori naan, and flash-fried calamari is glazed with sweet Thai pepper.
At Vitae's opening in 2011, a reviewer from the New York Times praised both the "tender baby back ribs," brushed with house-made black-coffee barbecue sauce, and the "elegant" ambiance, enhanced by the soft glow of recessed lighting and hanging lamps. Stored behind an onyx-amber bar and in a 1,400-bottle cellar, an extensive wine selection earned the Huntington eatery a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2014.