(516) 747-5100, Mineola
Italian small plates! Why didn’t someone think of them long before Lula Trattoria came along? They are a combination of the Island’s all-time favorite food (Italian) and the relatively new small plate concept. The traditional and the trendy, the new and the old, have forged a very successful alliance at Lula Trattoria in Mineola where Circa Enoteca had been.
A number of experienced, veteran restaurateurs are behind this inspired venture. Among them are Lula Dalipi, who is its managing director and an owner, along with Adam Haber of Roslyn, the part owner of Aldea, a nuvo Portuguese spot in New York City. The chef, Tom Gloster and wine director Sean Gantner are both known to Long Islanders from previous service at Rothmann’s in East Norwich. Two principals from the former occupant, Joe DeLorenzo and Jerry Sbarro, also have had input that contributed to the creation of Lula Trattoria. Mr. DeLorenzo still owns Abeetza in Greenvale while Mr. Sbarro owns both Rothmann’s and three Matteo’s on the Island.
Lula Trattoria is a warm, convivial, modestly priced kind of place that’s all about sharing. Newcomers are enthusiastically welcomed. There’s a fireplace at the center of the main dining area. The floor and tables are bare throughout while brick and wood paneled walls and a pressed tin ceiling can be found in various rooms. Diners, especially frugal ones who enjoy eating at Chinese restaurants for their family-style portions that offer far more than one dish per dinner, will respond to Lula’s interesting, diverse menu (antipasti, pizza, salad, cheese, pasta, seafood, meat, vegetables) with most choices in the $7 to $9 range. Only one dish, a substantial slab of steak pizzaiola ($13) blanketed with peppers, onions and pomodoro, tops the $12 mark.
A recent dinner for four began with a complimentary steaming hot, hollow loaf of bread coated with a sheen of herbed olive oil (we gave an enthusiastic “yes” when asked if we wanted another, but it never materialized). That was followed by a crisp, sturdy, rectangular brick oven Margherita pizzette ($9) that yielded two or three tasty slices for each of us.
After those two outstanding first impressions, portion sizes varied greatly. Pastas are almost regular entrée size, but a table of four ordering scallops or sliders, for instance, needs two portions.
The menu’s emphasis is on classic Italian mainstays like gnocchi Bolognese ($11), mushroom risotto ($12), calamari ($6), bruschetta ($8), beef braciole ($11) and clams oreganata ($9). Among the recommended starters are a straightforward grilled octopus ($8) enhanced with fried capers, fennel and parsley and a lush pear salad ($7) alive with a medley of crushed walnuts, mesclun, goat cheese, julienne pears and pear vinaigrette. The fresh beet salad ($7) is a keeper as well. But the pan-seared scallop ($8) is burdened with tasteless, under-seasoned pepe pasta and the juicy meatball slider ($3) is hampered by a stiff, dry roll rather than a soft one.
Among the entrée sized offerings, the grilled branzino filet ($12), cooked with lemon, spinach, pine nuts and EVOO and the slightly spicy, earthy chunks of lamb sausage on a bed of white beans and Swiss chard ($11) are recommended as are pastas, especially the hearty, homey papardelle all’Anatra ($12).
Among the generally diminutive desserts ($6), a silken panna cotta is the best bet.
Rough spots in the early going include a noise level (when full) that makes normal conversation impossible and a tendency by runners to deliver dishes to the wrong tables (it happened to us three times).
Photos by Stephen Lang