3112 Lawson Blvd, Oceanside
“We eat good here” are the words that appear prominently on a wall at Fiamma in Oceanside. The statement, though anything but the King’s English, is accurate. The four words tell you almost everything you need to know about chef-owner Joe Bonacore’s newest venture that’s replaced the storm-damaged Lawson Pub.
This comfortable, triple storefront restaurant on Lawson Boulevard offers a small menu featuring big flavors ( just 10 entrées). Bonacore, whose previous ventures at Rockville Centre’s Tuscany, Sole in Oceanside and Lawson Pub were all well received, is again cooking basic pasta, meat and seafood mainstays with creative tweaks and spins.
The warm, crusty bread here is accompanied by roasted garlic and basil infused butter. An artichoke appetizer ($9.95) isn’t the usual version. Rather, its long- stemmed Roman-style artichokes are touched with oregano and white wine and crusted with seasoned bread crumbs. Available at virtually every restaurant, the Caesar salad at Fiamma is an herb oiled, composed version that comes either grilled or in traditional form ($10.95).
The huge pork shank with a demi-glazed surface ($21.95) is the size and shape of a small chicken. It sits on a bed of spinach, shiitake mushrooms, truffles and a circle of roasted potatoes. It’s roasted and then simmered for three to four hours in wine giving it a mellow, homey flavor.
Understandably the most popular choice at Fiamma is the Beggars Purse ($17.95), it’s also one of the richest dishes on the Island with prosciutto cream and lemon bread crumbs tucked into four-cheese pasta purses. If the New England clam chowder ($6.95) is one of the daily specials, order it. It’s smooth, not gloppy, and its welcome load of bacon bits make it a delicious brew.
All desserts are house made. The best of them is the brûlée cheesecake spoons ($6.95), four cheesecake-filled, chocolate-covered lollypop morsels. The moist brownie with a puff of whipped cream and pistachio gelato for $3.95 well illustrates the modest pricing at Fiamma.
A hallmark of Bonacore’s restaurants has always been creative dishes at surprisingly gentle prices. Although many Island restaurants have wine lists that start at $30 and more, about half of Fiamma’s choices are in the $20s including a meritorious riesling at just $20. The appetizers ($8.95 to $12.95) are actually small plates in larger portions than typical starters elsewhere. There are three entrées (chicken, rigatoni and the naked burger) pegged at an approachable $16.95 and almost entrée size salads for $10.95.
The four-month-old Fiamma offers simple, high-quality fare at easy-to-take prices. It’s a comfortable, civilized spot with tan walls adorned with a few kitchen utensils and a friendly waitstaff. When our waitress saw me straining to see a basketball game on the TV at the far end of the dining room, she offered to seat us closer to it so we could see and hear better—it’s that kind of a place.