Location: 645 Middle Country Rd. St. James, NY 11780
Description: The bright, warm, and very satisfying new restaurant, Spezia, is an Italian eatery in St. ... More »
Spezia adds some spice to the season -- and to the lobster fra diavolo.
The bright, warm, very satisfying new restaurant opened at the address once occupied by Mauricio's Orlando II. In addition to adroitly prepared Italian and Italian-American favorites, Spezia also shows a light touch with New American accents.
They're offered in a comfortable dining area marked by dark-wood wainscoting, off-white textured walls and kitschy paintings that immortalize the Rialto Bridge and, for no apparent reason other than the occasional special of escargots, the Eiffel Tower. The TV at the bar is tuned automatically to the sports del giorno.
Overseeing Spezia is Alex Camargo, formerly a waiter at the landmark Casa Rustica in Smithtown. Service is, as you'd expect, very good. So is much of the food.
That starts with a gratis plate of crisp fried zucchini, decorated with a drizzle of balsamic syrup. You can begin with a savory, Italianate spin on oysters Rockefeller, which could make you rethink whether assertive cheese and briny shellfish go together.
A soothing opener of polenta paired with burrata and grape tomatoes offers a tasty hot-cool contrast. The hot antipasto holds sauteed shrimp, fried calamari and baked clams, all respectable if not exactly exciting. Arancini, or rice balls, filled with meat and cheese, are both hearty and light.
Lobster risotto has creamy texture and a generous amount of shellfish. And the house's lobster fra diavolo is an excellent version, with heat carefully calibrated to the degree of fieriness you want. Spezia also prepares fairly priced lobster oreganata and lobster Thermidor. Perfectly moist, grilled swordfish with capers arrives on a hillock of risotto primavera. Oven-roasted, whole branzino with garlic, herbs and olive oil, is decorously filleted table-side.
Pan-seared, breaded veal chop giardino deftly plays the Milanese theme, with an arugula-tomato-and-onion salad on top, but then veers closer to Sorrento, with an insurance-policy layer of melted mozzarella. Osso buco: unadorned, well-seasoned and tender, served with saffron risotto. The husky, flavorful double-cut pork chop is packed with Fontina cheese, crumbled sausage and prosciutto.
Spezia's lasagna, meaty and amply cheesed, will brace you for winter's start. Pappardelle Bolognese sports a lush sauce loaded with ground beef, veal and pork, and will do the same.
Enjoy the creamy tiramisu, homey Italian cheesecake, and a professional apple strudel, ice cream on the side.
You'll exit feeling merry.