(516) 676-2620, Locust Valley
This small Locust Valley restaurant is a one-of-a-kind spot with a big menu constructed by Culinary Institute of America graduate Gary Lanza, the talented chef and owner. The offerings are dominated by sushi, sashimi, classic rolls, signature rolls and small plates both raw and cooked.
But this is just part of the story at the Meridian Kitchen, for this is a department store restaurant—as in whatever you want, we’ve got. There are burgers, pizzas, salads, daily specials and large plates. True to Lanza’s Italian roots (his family ran La Vigna for many years), the bill of fare is also laced with pastas, saltimbocca, fra diavolo and parmigiana possibilities. There are even a few French touches like escargot and meatballs au poivre.
Oh yes, it’s also the only Long Island restaurant I know of without a kitchen—a kitchen on the premises, that is. Meridian’s cooking is done in the kitchen of a sister restaurant next door and an underground hallway connects the two eateries. While cold dishes are prepared at Meridian’s sushi bar, little green lights over the telephone signal waitresses that cooked dishes are ready to be picked up down below.
Lanza built Meridian Kitchen piece-by-piece. It started out in 1997 as a coffee shop and cigar lounge, then in 2002 became the Bin 23 wine bar. In 2011 it assumed its current identity: A tiny, sophisticated, high-ceilinged storefront dominated by a sushi bar on one wall and a sizeable main bar on the other. Of its nine tables, three are almost an afterthought.
Meridian’s size, space limitations and the fact that Locust Valley is not a restaurant hot spot is probably the reason it’s not often given the credit it deserves. (The fact that a very likable wait staff is far from polished doesn’t help either.) But other than an unexciting Wednesday eggplant casserole special ($14), an ordinary chocolate peanut pie ($10) and a doughy, dry apple brown betty ($11), every dish at Meridian is on target and Mr. Lanza deserves plaudits for his food’s creative vibrant flavors (although the desserts were made off-site).
A substantial mound of crunchy rock shrimp tempura ($14) with a slightly spicy mayo glaze makes for addictive eating. The Kani salad of crabmeat and cucumber with Japanese mayo ($9) is both excellent and healthful. Sushi here is pristine. The octopus ($3.50), smoked salmon ($3.50) and shrimp ($3) are especially recommended. The beef Negamaki roll with a teriyaki glaze ($12) is a tender, refined version of this Japanese standby, while the six mini meatballs in a sumptuous peppercorn Cognac sauce ($11) offer simple rustic eating. A sizable, well-presented portion of chicken porcini ($23) is a hefty, bold selection and its sherry wine sauce is both delicate and dynamic.
The best sweets sampled were two decadent chocolate creations: A fudgy chocolate brownie Sundae ($12) and an exemplary chocolate mud cake ($11).
Expect dishes to be plunked down in front of diners who didn’t order them and dishes ordered by other tables to be delivered to yours. (We received an escargot we hadn’t requested.) But the food will be succulent and appealing, no matter who actually ordered it.
Photo by Tom Fitzgerald and Pam Deutchman / thefphoto.com