Spring starts Sunday. It’s already under way in Oyster Bay.
Popping up like a crocus in a still-frosty field, Autentico brings a sunny taste of Italian cuisine downtown. The old site of Gulden’s Café & Bakery has been transformed into a true dining destination.
Plenty of planning, experimenting and fine-tuning went into Autentico’s wintertime opening. Hours seemed to change as frequently as the weekly menus. And the cozy dining room sometimes still seems a work-in-progress. But that’s part of the very hands-on, perpetual-motion appeal.
Autentico is the work of new restaurateurs Zac Nudo and Connie Cincotta and veteran chef Francesco Pecoraro. This is the first American venture by Pecoraro, whose resume includes restaurants in Rimini, in Emilia-Romagna on the Adriatic Sea and his native Sicily.
Each table at the 40-to-50 seat spot is named for a region of Italy, identified with a framed place card. They typically seat two or four diners. A few can be stretched to fit five, maybe six. The Vespa-size duets toward the back extol the Veneto and Calabria; bigger ones, Tuscany and Piedmont. Sicily deserves the largest.
It all unfolds in a white-and-off-white space full of furniture more distressed than any nearby competitors’. There’s the artful, pressed-metal section of ceiling and the shelf anchored by a long-used Italian coffee maker. Biscotti, pastries and other baked goods fill a case and assorted canisters.
A vintage wedding portrait of an unknown couple looks onto the dining room. The duo’s expressions are much more serious than those of the very contented diners who’ve found Autentico.
They bring their own wines, expectations and years of experience confronting too many Parmigianas and enough fried calamari to make squid an endangered species. The Autentico menu is handwritten, with an Italianate flourish. The dishes are finished the same way.
Yes, that’s a delicate carrot flan supporting the marine “meatballs” of branzino and shrimp. Mostarda di Cremona, the sweet-spicy preserved fruit, is in the little jar that accompanies a fine board of cheeses and cured meats. Piadina di Rimini, a thin flatbread here layered with prosciutto, arugula and stracchino cheese, would be a good lunch.
Evocative panelle, or Sicilian-style chickpea fritters, arrive with a savory combo of scrambled eggs and Grana Padano cheese. Bread pudding and asparagus stuff a floral-display appetizer of fresh artichoke hearts. A delectable napoleon of zucchini and pine nuts accents the snowy, silver-skinned filet of orata, or sea bream.
They’re specialties seasoned with surprise. Likewise, the gnocchi, which, while heavier than they should be, are redeemed by a terrific sauce of broccoli and walnuts; the stirring, ring-shaped anellini pasta baked with eggplant, sausage and Gorgonzola cheese; and especially the vivid spaghetti with tuna sauce and capers.
Accused of timidity: the guy ordering otherwise respectable pappardelle Bolognese. Another risk-averse appetite picks filet mignon, but the choice is sparked by an excellent mustard sauce. Chicken breast Valdostana: a bit dry.
Pecoraro stands out with a sensational stracchino-cheese mousse that’s drizzled with honey and served with caramelized nuts. And his classic Sicilian sweets, from cannoli and cassata to a just-baked brioche filled with gelato, ensure sharing, new reservations, probably some travel plans. April signals the right time to visit Sicily.
And, of course, March is ideal in Oyster Bay.