Verde Wine Bar & Ristorante wasn’t always the destination dining spot it is today. The Deer Park mainstay first made the scene in 1984 as an 11 seat pizzeria called Papa Joe’s. It then followed a now familiar path trod by many heralded, established Long Island restaurants. It often goes like this, a family, usually Italian, opens a modest neighborhood pizzeria. It prospers. They expand, sometimes to an empty adjacent store where they morph into a restaurant, usually serving not just pizza but traditional Italian food as well. Over the years new generations of the family take over and inject both energy and sophistication into the operation.
Anthony Carcaterra, the son of Neil and Catherine Caraterra, who ran Papa Joe’s, and James Ahern, the chef and his boyhood buddy, are that new generation. They have gone from youthful dishwasher and bus boy to mature owners.
Diners who want to eat the pasta, parmigianas and pizza standards that made Italian restaurants so popular on the Island can still do so here. But Verde is not your father’s Italian restaurant. Patrons can opt for creative, cutting edge cuisine as well, especially if they order one of the standout tasting menus (six courses $100, $125 with six wines, $125 eight courses and $150 with eight wines). Both stress local farms and offer dishes that emphasize fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Among the dishes sampled in a recent tasting menu was a pastrami foie gras torchon. This Jewish-French combination sounds a bit bizarre but tastes as though its mix and match ingredients (including tiny warm toast) were made for each other. It came with a substantial glass of Moscato from Oregon. All eight glasses from the all-American wine list (California, Oregon and Long Island) held more than a splash of wine. The meal itself was a balanced beauty of seafood and meat, cooked and raw, warm and cool. The soft, warm oysters are enhanced by caviar and horseradish zabaglione. Cobia, a rarely encountered fish comes with red cabbage, coriander chili oil and quinoa. Dover sole, another blue ribbon top of the line fish, is also one of the small portions that’s part of this nearly faultless dinner. Only a final selection, a tough Strube Ranch Wagyu sirloin steak was an exception to an especially served meal which brings us to Verde’s extraordinary servers. There are no better waiters on Long Island than the pleasant, helpful and especially knowledgeable ones here. Each course and each wine comes with a detailed explanation. It is those waiters, not the relatively drab décor that generate the restaurant’s palpable warmth.