Sicily has been invaded more times than any part of Italy. Greeks, Romans, Saracens, Normans, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Spanish Bourbons, many others. How much they influenced Sicily or, equally likely, how Sicily changed them, has been discussed for centuries.
But on the table of the Mediterranean's biggest island, there's certainty. The results are as vivid as the sea.
This refined, very traditional place, in hues of bronze and cream, took over the old address of Ristorante da Ugo last year. It's the offspring of Antonette's in Bellmore, where the direction is mainly Neapolitan.
Antonette's Classico does prepare plenty of familiar Italian-American fare and its regional Italian plates from north and south.
But it's the handful of Sicilian flavors that immediately makes the newcomer a distinctive destination. Devotees of the cookery may remember restaurant manager Nick Cobi, who once worked at the local paradigm of Sicilian cuisine, the now-departed Villa Altadonna in Mineola.
Here, start with a vibrant salad of sliced and trimmed oranges, dressed with extra-virgin olive oil, shavings of onion, parsley and olives. Or dig into a generously stuffed artichoke, its breading flecked with bits of olive.
Then, move onto an order of bucatini con le sarde, the specialty of Palermo that's a defining dish in Sicilian cooking. Sardines, fennel, raisins, pine nuts, bread crumbs -- it's Sicily on a plate, full-flavored and as spirited as a trade route. The version at Antonette's Classico is very good.
Pork braciola arrives generously packed with chopped meat, egg, provolone, pine nuts. Accordingly, the epic roulade looks like a zeppelin that has landed on a hillock of gnocchi.
Although not on the regular menu, you also may encounter swordfish rolls, stuffed sardines, tripe, a fish-of-the-day with olives, capers and onions. Call ahead.
The house's red snapper Livornese, with green olives, is a tasty alternative. Lobster arrabbiata, accompanied and emboldened by fried hot peppers, can take a mild turn or an incendiary one, depending on your preference. The fried peppers are a mandatory side dish with almost any main course.
Antonette's Classico veers north with an excellent pappardelle alla Bolognese, this rendition with a Southern accent of ricotta, too. The kitchen goes continental with a tender rack of New Zealand lamb. But a stuffed pork chop is dry; mozzarella in carrozza, bland; baked clams, routine. Instead, sample the Roman spinach-and-egg-drop soup, stracciatella. And Cobi prepares a first-rate, table-side Caesar salad.
Dessert: commendable fig gelato, and, of course, cannoli. Yes, well-made tiramisu. But maybe they'll have a cassata next time.