Food Reviews: Insignia

Smithtown (631) 656-8100


Anthony Scotto, the visionary restaurateur obviously hasn’t heard about the recession. Neither have the youthful foodies who jam his palatial new restaurant in Smithtown most nights. After his steak and sushi format succeeded big time at Blackstone Steakhouse in Melville and Rare 650 in Syosset, he’s now pushing the envelope at Insignia, a monument to excess if ever there was one.

On a recent weeknight, there was a long line of cars waiting to get to the parking valets. The valets didn’t open car doors for arriving women, but did open doors when they departed. After disembarking, diners enter a castle-like, half rustic, half royal-style standalone mansion complete with turret. To the left is a slightly too loud, massive mahogany dining room with a high-beamed ceiling in a wheel design, a glass-walled two-story wine room and a sparkling, sophisticated sushi bar with eye-popping chandeliers and overhead glass cubes that are reminiscent of oversized ice cubes. Patrons order drinks from iPads and gulp hard after one look at the over-the-top menu prices. (More about them later.)

To the right is a noisy scene featuring a gargantuan bar and lounge that’s packed, sometimes five to 10 deep with a flesh market crowd of mostly 20- to 40-year-olds, heavy on females dressed to the nines. They seemed more interested in males than meals in-between downing $15 drinks. The room boasts what must be the world’s largest TV projection screen. Heavy beat music fills the air, which, along with the high decibel sound from the mob at the bar, filters into the dining room, making it almost as loud a milieu.

Prices at Insignia stamp it as the ultimate special occasion restaurant and one of the most costly on the Island. Steaks top out with the 12oz Wagyu boneless American rib eye for $115, while the least expensive red meat picks—the petite filet mignon and marinated char-grilled skirt steaks—go for a still substantial $39. The least expensive fish, the royal dorado is priced at $25. Although there are wines by the glass that cost as little as $9, there’s one that goes for $56.

The food here falls into the “when it’s good it’s very, very good, but when it’s bad it’s horrid” category. Either way, portions are anything but stingy and service is always solicitous (though there were long gaps between courses). Crusty, rugged rye bread and a vibrant roasted pepper and tomato dip make for an appropriate and appealing beginning. Unfortunately, we neither received nor were offered any replacements. They were followed by two mountain-like hunks of wedge salad ($10), its hearts of lettuce rich with ripe beefsteak tomato, bacon crisps and noteworthy homemade bleu cheese dressing. The finely-shredded baby arugula salad ($12) with its hearts of palm, strawberries, pine nuts and honey Balsamic vinaigrette dressing and interesting, diverse ingredients had adherents, but was a tad too sweet from the berries and honey dressing. Don’t neglect the super fresh, fine pieces of sushi. The attractively presented octopus ($4) and eel ($5) pieces were especially outstanding.

There were no problems with the mild, moist, boned whole royal dorado ($25) with its melted clear butter and a side order of thin grilled asparagus ($10) that nicely augmented the fish. The least expensive entrée, herb-roasted, marinated chicken ($25) also scored. Its meat was soft, succulent and tender, speckled with cubes of Yukon gold potatoes, wilted spinach and touched with a contrasting lemon sauce. Then came the rock hard, tooth-breaking, marinated char-grilled skirt steak. Thinly cut and molded into a turret that resembled filet mignon, it was anything but. (Isn’t steak supposed to be the specialty here?) Even heavy steak knives couldn’t penetrate the thinly cut, leathery individual slides of meat. Neither could one of my back teeth, which broke off during this encounter.

Two sweet finales helped cushion the steak slaughter: A crème brûlée studded with intoxicating rum raisins and warm cinnamon, and sugared chocolate-striped donuts.

photos by stephen lang

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richard jay scholem

Richard Jay Scholem practically invented the Long Island restaurant culture through 800+ reviews of the region's eateries both on radio and in print over the last 30 years. He is a former New York Times Long Island Section restaurant reviewer, has contributed to the Great Restaurants of...magazines and Bon Vivant, authored a book, aired reviews on WGSM and WCTO radio stations, served on the board of countless community and food and beverage organizations, and received many accolades for his journalism in both print and broadcast media. He is currently available for restaurant consultation. Reach him at (631) 271-3227.