1024 Northern Blvd., Roslyn
AMBIENCE: No detail is left undone in this vast dining room that offers comfort, intimacy and great people-watching.
ESSENTIALS: Lunch and dinner, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday to Saturday. Major credit cards and reservations accepted, wheelchair accessible, parking lot.
In 2006, tasting menus and cocktail pairings signified high-end restaurants, farm-to-table was the buzz and the march of small plates had begun. It was a year of peak foodie-ism when Donald and Anne Finley took over the closed Ground Round in Roslyn to transform their far-reaching plans into reality for a restaurant to be called Barto.
Long Island knows the Finleys from Bayville’s Shipwreck Tavern and the neighboring Adventure Park. The Finleys are also proprietors of the bar/club Jekyll & Hyde in the West Village, opening multiple locations, such as a massive one in Times Square, shuttered in 2015.
The closing freed up energy to focus on Roslyn, where plans for Barto had been resuscitated. The restaurant finally opened in June, 10 years after building commenced — a lifetime in the competitive world of restaurants. While local sourcing is still of-the-moment, grandiose restaurants like this one are harder to come by, as fast-casual concepts dominate and burgers or rainbow bagels hog attention on Instagram.
The 170-seat Barto has focused on design. A matte black exterior displays a rhythm of windows like a passing train. Inside, white ceilings reveal skylights framed by pop-art cutouts. Floral wallpaper is a riot of color tempered by black accent walls nearby. The eye-catcher is the massive red Venetian glass chandelier that lends the space bordello-chic.
The food and service are delivered with less aplomb, with an eager-to-please menu of Latin, Italian and New American dishes from Hatim Abid, who previously cooked at Andaz 5th Avenue Hotel in Manhattan and Toku Modern Asian in Manhasset. That menu means you’ll find something you like, but it lacks identity.
Among starters hamachi is a gem, dressed with citron vinegar dappled with sliced-thin radishes seasoned with coriander. Moving toward street food, a halved avocado supports a handful of grilled shrimp on a plate littered with sweet corn doused with lime. The pizzas with a thin, very crisp crust are a fine choice to share as a first course, such as the Calabrese with soppressata and chorizo served with arugula and a whisper of Parmesan.
Avoid the beet salad over greens with Asian pears, goat cheese and candied pecans as it’s too sweet, but kudos that the restaurant offers five salads including kale, asparagus, a bread salad with tomatoes as well as market greens. Order the one that shows off in-season vegetables.
The mains are hit and miss. A lobster roll struts one ingredient too many, with mangos, apples and slaw on brioche, served with a side of truffle fries the scent so strong it’s distracting. Lobster tails serve as a pleasing alternative, though take note that they’re painted with beurre blanc.
Speaking of palettes, seared scallops that lack caramelizing sit on a plate of lavender, green and brown swooshes of sauce that deliver a clash of flavors, and are served with a side of cauliflower. There’s also a lot going on with the French burger, a grass-fed beef patty stacked with bacon, layered with Cheddar, and doused with onion jam and sun-dried tomatoes
The marinated skirt steak with charred edges and a rosy interior is less ostentatious. Super crisp kale, like chips, join those truffle fries on the side.
More soulful dishes reference Morocco, such as juicy braised chicken with preserved lemons and cerignola olives beside fluffy saffron couscous. The high-acid charmoula complements branzino.
In the lounge or dining room, service makes all the difference, of course, and here it varies from in-sync to left-footed.
My favorite way to experience Barto remains in the lounge with a simple dish or two, where one can enjoy a glass of Sancerre from the Enomatic dispenser, an Aperol spritz or a rum cocktail at a seat with a view. In a vast, decked-out dining room like this one, people-watching is a course unto itself.