ARIA MELANIE ON THE LAKE
240 W. Main St., Bay Shore
AMBIENCE: Aria Melanie hits notes that appeal to neighbors as well as destination diners, with tailored Italian dishes and a fabulous view.
ESSENTIALS: Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; brunch, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Outdoor dining, cocktail patio with fireplace, reservations, major credit cards accepted, wheelchair accessible
Aria Melanie on the Lake wouldn’t have opened in Bay Shore if Fred Mandato hadn’t met Fabrizio Perinelli when the latter waited on him at a Huntington restaurant. Fittingly, as Mandato was deciding on retiring from his financial career, he struck up a conversation with Perinelli and learned that his dream was to cook.
Originally from Priverno, south of Rome, Perinelli knows his way around an Italian kitchen, having worked in his uncle’s trattoria back in Italy, cooking and making pasta. As one would expect, he also learned from his mother, who taught him over the years as they’d prepare Sunday supper. But he was working front of the house when he met Mandato — to improve his English, he said. He wanted to hone his conversational skills after his graduation from culinary school and had just finished stints cooking in the ever-so-tiny Piccola Cucina in the West Village and for Lia Fallon in the now-closed Amarelle in Wading River.
Aria Melanie is far from concept-driven spots opened by restaurant groups that are taking over the landscape. It’s akin to an old-fashioned charmer, a polished version of a mom-and-pop. In addition to the view and warm hospitality, on the menu pastas stand out, along with the fish, particularly snapper or grouper en papillote.
It’s an eclectic place, a house with a front door that opens toward a car dealership across the street, while the back patio faces bucolic Lawrence Lake. The address has always been a special occasion spot, first as Duck Pond Inn for decades, then as The Lake House (which recently moved to larger quarters facing Great South Bay).
When he signed the lease, with the exception of the small barroom, Mandato gutted the restaurant and the kitchen. He expanded seating to 80 and added railings and a canopy to the deck, as well as heat, air-conditioning and walls that roll-up to allow for an unfettered view. When the fire marshal said no to the fire pit that had been a favorite spot when it was The Lake House, Mandato asked if it would be all right to build a stone patio with a built-in gas fireplace, now a place for cocktails only, before and after dinner.
Plan on a leisurely dinner here, where you might start with stuffed figs with cantaloupe and prosciutto or eggplant caponata, sweet over sour with a red wine reduction. The roasted cauliflower with raisins, kale and pine nuts is quite satisfying as a side or starter. And the beef carpaccio is a balance of high-quality meat and greens. More bar food than modern Mediterranean, fritto misto one-ups fried calamari with the addition of shrimp and zucchini in a honey-chipotle sauce. While it’s too ornate for me, it’s the most popular starter on the menu.
With so many restaurants focusing on pasta — it’s a crowd pleaser and the margins are good — I’m pleased to say it’s admirable here, from the kale pesto mafaldine (pasta ribbons studded with chorizo and grilled zucchini, garnished with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano) to the gnocchi. The latter arrives pillowy and hot, layered with tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini and tomatoes.
Among entrees, short rib medallions rest on a bed of risotto beside halved heirloom carrots and blanched haricots verts. But my favorite entree surprised me: snapper en papillote (in parchment) cooked with tarragon and cherry tomatoes. Before it’s served, the dish is dressed with sauce Americaine that lends flavor from brandy, white wine, stock and butter. A handful of mussels and clams are the garnish, while blanched vegetables round out the dish. With a sauce and vegetable side, it’s old-school. With charred parchment, it’s rustic.
Like others on the menu, this isn’t the kind of dish made for Instagram, one of many reasons why Aria Melanie is a crowd-pleaser for any age.