Mona Lisa still smiles in the dining room of Emilio’s Fine Italian Restaurant. She has her reasons.
Emilio’s succeeded La Spada at this cozy site opposite the Walt Whitman Shops. For the record, it has no connection with Emilio’s, the casual restaurant and pizzeria in Commack.
Here’s a bright, appealing, traditional spot, with very good Italian food. That’s no surprise. The owner and chef is Emilio Valle, who shared ownership and ran the kitchen at La Spada. Giovanni Valle, his brother, is host and manager.
Their establishment is marked by smooth service and a warm personality. This is an easy place to like. Regulars already abound, from shoppers seeking comfort after a busy session at the mall to business types who populate Route 110 and are looking for a fairly priced, unpretentious destination along the busy corridor.
House-made sweet potato chips are gratis, along with cuts of Parmesan cheese and tasty bruschetta. Nibble away while making your decisions, which should include one of the house’s well-chosen Italian wines.
Grilled calamari, coated with seasoned breadcrumbs, arrives tender and slightly smoky, for a savory opener. Baked clams oreganata also are recommended, along with littlenecks Posillipo in a light marinara sauce. Grilled octopus, accented with fennel, is a first-class appetizer that makes you wish it were a main course, too.
The union of broccoli rabe with sweet Italian sausage makes for a husky, satisfying starter, completed with polenta that’s capped with black olives and garlic. The house’s stuffed artichoke is split and layered with mozzarella, an addition that redefines the dish you expect.
Leading the pastas is mezzi rigatoni Bolognese, with a meat sauce both hearty and subtle. Pappardelle Siciliana, with tomato sauce, diced eggplant, ricotta and basil, also stands out. Trailing them: spinach fettuccine with shrimp and a touch of tomato. A standard from La Spada, cavatelli “foresteria,” with mushrooms, mascarpone and prosciutto, has transitioned easily.
Valle prepares a juicy, pistachio-crusted pork chop, which has a hint of sherry. Chicken rollatine, stuffed with asparagus and Fontina cheese, is on the bland side. You’ll be drawn instead to chicken scarpariello. Emilio’s offers Parmigianas in the four basic categories, from chicken and veal to shrimp and eggplant. On Sunday, Italian-American favorites expand the menu.
Seaside, shrimp sautéed with garlic, butter, lemon and wine is expertly done, finished with chopped plum tomatoes and basil. A special of striped bass marechiaro, boosted with mussels and clams, is respectable. It’s also preferable to limp, overdone, white-and-black sesame-seed crusted tuna.
The straightforward grillings take in salmon, chicken, veal chops, rack of lamb and rib-eye steak. Steak au poivre is made with skirt steak.
Enjoy the Italianate napoleon and cheesecake, as well as cannoli and tiramisu. Fig gelato competes well with a coconut-dusted vanilla tartufo and the more familiar chocolate version. You’ll linger over espresso, and depart smiling.