Antonette’s of East Hills
290 Glen Cove Rd., Roslyn Heights,516-626-6490, antonetteseasthills.com
SERVICE Friendly and accommodating
AMBIENCE Dated in its opulence, but appealing nonetheless
ESSENTIALS Open Tuesday to Thursday noon to 9 p.m., Friday noon to 10 p.m., Saturday 3 to 10 p.m., Sunday 1 to 9 p.m. Wheelchair accessible, valet on weekends
The competition among Italian restaurants on Long Island is fierce. On its face, Antonette’s of East Hills would seem to have a few legs up. Owner James Antoniotti is an experienced operator, having opened the first Antonette’s in Bellmore more than a decade ago. Rockville Centre’s Antonette’s Classico followed in 2012, earned 2 1⁄2 stars from Newsday and closed last year. Only the East Hills location, also 2012 vintage, remains.
The stately, free-standing building — former home of Table 9, Brivo and, for many years, L’Endoit — has good frontage on a main thoroughfare in a prosperous, restaurant-going community. There’s a room upstairs for private functions, and the décor on both levels is pleasantly out of step with fashion. Antonette’s does not call to mind a farmhouse or a barn or a butcher shop or a subway station; with its creamy table linens, upholstered chairs and copious drapery, it actually looks like a fancy restaurant.
Despite professional service and a handful of good dishes, however, the Antonette’s experience can be summed up in one word: sloppy. It starts with the front door: With no vestibule to accommodate slow-moving parties, it is constantly allowing blasts of cold air into the dining room. The flickering flames of the virtual fireplace against the back wall add irony to the chill.
The kitchen, under the command of Leo Rodriguez, is strong on starters. Pasta fagioli was full of flavor with macaroni that had obviously been added at the last minute to preserve its firmness. No complaints about the baked little neck clams, and I liked that the grilled octopus had a good char on it, and that its accompanying potatoes were deeply roasted. This all added up to a gutsier take on an appetizer that is fast becoming a standard.
Antonette’s ragu, thick and red and packed with meatballs, sausage and short rib, comes with cappellini, but if, like me, you’d prefer a heartier pasta, the kitchen is happy to oblige. Of the mains, veal saltimbocca, cutlets topped with cheese, prosciutto and sage, made a nice change from Parm, Marsala and Francese.
But the ragu was the only pasta I can recommend. Lasagna was an uninterrupted slab of meat sauce and overdone noodles, with no relief from béchamel or ricotta. Linguine, clams and sauce never came together. Orecchiette sat in a watery sauce with sloppily cut broccoli rabe, big chunks of garlic and sausage that was supposed to be crumbled but was only partially cut up, as if the chef had lost interest midway through prep.
Stuffed artichoke, a special, looked like it had been sitting around for hours, its leaves curled, its breading sodden, its sauce broken. Veal Francese was done in by a stale taste coming from either the dredging flour or frying oil or both. Prime rib, an odd special for an Italian restaurant, was ruined by a canned-tasting gravy. One night there was no escarole with beans, so we got spinach with beans instead. Another night, the escarole showed up beanless. Our apologetic waiter returned soon with freshly sautéed escarole that had not been seasoned at all — nor had the beans.
Then there is the tragicomic wine situation. Back in 2012, I visited Antonette’s just after it opened and found a wine list full of interesting bottles at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, they were out of my first three choices and so the waiter asked me to join him at the wine cooler, where we decided on a pinot bianco from Alois Lageder.
Five years later, the situation has deteriorated. Our waitress was hesitant about even giving us a wine list because, she said, so little of it was actually available. So I asked if I could accompany her to the cellar. No more cooler, it’s now a little closet off the dining room and we spent a few minutes there while she pulled out every bottle of red until she found an Italian one. “How much for that Valpolicella?” I asked. “I’ll give it to you for $40.” “Sold!”
On a recent Wednesday night, ours was one of only two tables occupied in the dining room. By 7:30 on a Saturday night, the room was a little more than half full. When money isn’t coming in, it’s hard for a restaurant to buy wine, keep a talented kitchen staff, make capital improvements. There are about a dozen other Italian restaurants within a four-mile radius of Antonette’s. Diners will accept no apology for carelessness.