Enter the resto-lounge. That's the newest way to describe trendy restaurants that morph into clubby lounges after the last dinner plate is cleared. At Sugar Dining Den and Social Club in Carle Place (246 Voice Rd., 516-248-7600, sugarli.com), which had its grand opening last weekend, patrons slink into stylish, contemporary space for cocktails and tapas - and stick around (much) later when tables are whisked away to make room for dancing.
SUGAR - AT DINNER
How is the food at Sugar? Very good and, mercifully, silent.
The cavernous, pulsating dining room - the music seemed to pound up through the banquettes - is not an ideal venue for dining, but the dishes I sampled were tasteful, imaginative and surprisingly restrained.
Sugar's kitchen is headed by Hok Chin, an accomplished chef and a veteran of such esteemed establishments as Manhattan's La Caravelle and Les Celebrities. His menu is an array of international favorites with a little Italian, a little Tex-Mex, a little bistro and a lot of Asian fusion. It lists about two dozen small plates and three full-sized main courses that come under the heading "For those who don't like to share."
Our server suggested that two of us share five plates, and that worked out fine. The most expensive small plate on the menu is $12, and most are under $10. A slider is only $5.
I loved the fried calamari topped with a well-balanced salad of baby arugula, mango and fennel. Steamed pork dumplings and shrimp-stuffed, spicy miso-glazed Japanese eggplant were also nicely done. "Drunken" short ribs were tender and had a haunting undertone of Chinese five-spice powder. The only disappointment was a perfunctory iron pot of, yawn, truffled mac and cheese.
Dinner is served starting at 5 p.m., and the last seating is at 9:30. Between 9:30 and 11 p.m., you order from an abbreviated "late night" menu of less-ambitious fare such as shrimp cocktail, fried calamari and grilled cheese ($4-$15).
SUGAR - LATE-NIGHT
With a sleek, domed ceiling and chic decor marked by half-circle booths and 3-D hologram artwork, Sugar is a more regal nightspot than its suburban strip-mall location lets on.
"We really wanted to have a 'wow factor,'" says general manager (and managing partner) Brian Rosenberg, whom nightlife mavens may remember from the now-defunct Posh at the Garden City Hotel. "The point is to offer big-club feel with zero attitude."
That may be true, but there are still plenty of beautiful people here. On opening night, the well-dressed crowd appeared to be mostly in their mid-20s to 50s. Sugar's (of course) candy-themed specialty cocktails, $12, range from Pineapple Almond Joy to the Red Bull-tinged Sugar-Tini.
For now, there's no cover charge at the door. Once the dinner tables are cleared away after 11 p.m., Sugar's hidden track lighting kicks into overdrive, and the cavelike space is awash in a planetarium-like show that sends waves of color streaming like comets over the walls, floor and ceiling. The soundtrack, provided by music director "DJ Los" Carlos Melange Rodriguez, is a mix of popular mash-ups, lyrical mixes and reworked rock that encourages dancing. The whole effect makes Sugar seem as if it is hosting a massive bash in a hidden magic forest.