Manhasset (516) 365-6956
Do they know who you are? It’s the most frequent question asked of restaurant critics. Almost always the answer is “no.” Among the many precautions I take to prevent being given any special treatment while reviewing a restaurant are to make reservations in the name of the couple accompanying my wife and me, never placing a special off-the-menu order, always answering “how is everything?” by saying “fine,” whether it is or not, and paying with my wife’s credit card with her maiden name on it.
Having said all of that, I have a confession to make. Giorgio and Tony, the partners behind Stresa, a 22-year-old upscale Italian restaurant in Manhasset, know me. Over the years the Scholem family has celebrated birthdays and anniversaries there.
I am attracted to Stresa because it is just about everything a fine restaurant should be. The place operates like a well-oiled machine. Consistency is the hallmark of top-notch restaurants and at Stresa if you order a dish three times, it will always taste exactly the same. The tuxedoed waitstaff is impeccably trained, none of them will ever ask who gets a dish—they know. One waiter wanders the dining room doing nothing but filling water glasses. The owners check to make sure that every course at every table is as it should be; their inquiries are brief, but warm and sincere. They never fawn over patrons. The butter here is soft and ready to spread, not brick hard as it so often is elsewhere. And that butter can, and should, be spread on breadsticks that are thin, slim, exemplary specimens, not the usual thick, gross ones frequently encountered.
The two owners who vigilantly prowl the dining room watching over every detail are hands-on operators. Tony D’Arcangelo purchases and artistically arranges a massive ever-changing bouquet that’s a visual highlight of the restaurant and Giorgio Meriggi gets in at 7:30am and personally prepares all the desserts (the soufflés are the best on Long Island).
Stresa isn’t a trendy restaurant and most of the dishes on the menu are familiar to diners (beef carpaccio, bisque, spaghetti alla Norma, scaloppini of veal, scampi, Caesar salad, vegetable soup, etc.). Yet some dishes display creative twists. But everything traditional and non-traditional, solid and delicate, is knowingly cooked and served.
Typical was a meal we had late last year. Appetizers included: A large portion of sautéed wild mushrooms ($14); an absolutely perfect Caesar salad for two ($15); jumbo, tender pan-seared diver sea scallops with chick peas and chick pea purée ($15); and beef carpaccio festooned with chips of Parmesan ($15).
Among the main events were: A Fred Flintstone-sized, slightly chewy sautéed veal chop with wild mushrooms and Savoy cabbage; six plump shrimp scampi with a turret of puréed black beans and six soft baby artichokes ($33); sautéed veal scaloppini ($27) bathed in a tangy, citrusy white wine; and a sautéed filet of beef ($38) crowned with rich foie gras and napped in a luxuriant port wine sauce.
Two nine-dollar desserts, the chocolate cake and the lemon cake, lead the parade of sweets. While there may be better lemon cake (and Caesar salad) on Long Island, I haven’t tasted them.
Photos by Stephen Lang