Night falls in Huntington and, at 5 p.m., the casual breakfast and lunch eatery, Toast & Co., morphs into the serious chef-driven restaurant, Toast After Hours. At the stove is Darren Calica, whose previous gig was at the nearby Osteria Toscana. What you get in this informal setting is an array of house- made pastas and well-crafted New American and Italian dishes at gentle prices. Burgers, salads and sandwiches offer alternatives.
TOAST OF THE TOWN
For starters, Calica offers crunchy tacos (made by deep-frying house-baked flatbread) stuffed with a Southwestern mix of spiced, seared tiger shrimp, black beans, peppers, onions and melted cheese plated with guacamole. I'm skeptical about the architectural roasted eggplant tower with fresh mozzarella and a balsamic-infused tomato sauce, but one bite tells me all I need to know about the lively, smoky flavors.
Pastas are a forte. Calica's pici (short, fat spaghetti) carbonara is made with bacon, peas, caramelized onions, Parmesan broth and a pasteurized yolk - not identical to the real Roman deal but pretty close. I get comfort from the homey-elegant pappardelle (wide noodles) with short ribs in a Chianti-spiked brown sauce with roasted cipollini onions and citrus zest. Also, the tagliatelle (fettucine-like ribbon noodles) in a hearty Bolognese sauce.
Fork-tender chicken Parmigiana is blanketed in a bright tomato sauce and a melt of fresh mozzarella and served with a big bowl of linguine. Calica skillfully roasts chicken with lemon and garlic, plates it with goat cheese-enriched mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. Very good. A worthwhile splurge is the chipotle-marinated sliced skirt steak, served in a skillet with black beans, Creole rice and drizzled with a piquant salsa verde.
Calica's "twisted" mac and cheese (cavatappi in a rich cheese sauce) is supposed to be crowned with toasted panko bread crumbs. It isn't. I send back the thrown-together mélange of cheese and pasta for its proper topping. Corrected, the dish is terrific. Desserts are second thought. Other than house-made cannoli, there's generic cheesecake with aerosol whipped cream.
Skip dessert and mangia benne.