Shiny, new Mannino's is happily old school.
There are three branches of Mannino's on Long Island, including spots in Smithtown and Oakdale. This is the largest, a grand and grandiose tribute to mondo marinara compared with the modest quarters on Commack Road from which the restaurant relocated last year. It's a sprawling, two-story affair, with a very big appetite.
Mannino's focuses on Italian-American favorites, among the most popular fare in Nassau and Suffolk. Every day could be devoted to the traditional Sunday dinner. Few prepare it as well as this Mannino's.
Start with the excellent grilled octopus, tossed with slivers of endive, celery and roasted peppers, finished with a lemon-and-olive-oil dressing. You'll be tempted to have it as a main course, too.
Baked clams oreganata are well-seasoned and satisfying; the spin on oysters Rockefeller, respectable; fried calamari, crunchy and blond. And the opener of escarole and cannellini beans sauteed with garlic in olive oil is mandatory, if not as an appetizer than definitely as a side dish. Pasta e fagioli becomes the antidote to winter.
Pastas are uniformly very good. The standout, however, is cavatelli with olive oil and garlic, enriched with cauliflower, pine nuts, raisins, capped with bread crumbs -- a Sicilian reverie. Orecchiette alla Barese, with olive oil and garlic, plus crumbled sausage, broccoli rabe and sun-dried tomato, also is a hearty winner.
Likewise, baked lasagna with ricotta and meat sauce. The house's Sunday sauce translates into a superior ragù for rigatoni, topped with fresh ricotta; spaghetti and meatballs, all you'd want. A savory alternative to these is cheese tortelloni antica, in a light cream sauce, with prosciutto, peas, mushrooms and onion.
The elemental Parmigianas are prepared with care, especially the chicken and eggplant productions. Beef braciola arrives as a tender zeppelin, docked atop rigatoni. Pan-seared pork chops, with delicious, poker-chip size rounds of fried potato, and hot cherry peppers: terrific.
Scungilli and calamari in marinara sauce delivers that concentrated, marine flavor usually absent. But lobster tail fra diavolo is overcooked and short on spiciness. Rosy, seared, sesame-crusted ahi tuna doesn't benefit from a "mandarin sesame ginger" sauce.
Desserts are generally forgettable, from dry cheesecake and bland banana cream pie to ultra-sweet zabaglione and decaffeinated tiramisu. Cannoli are a better alternative, with tasty ricotta cream, a crisp shell, and, just as important, the evocation of good times, past and to come.