240 W. Main St., Bay Shore
SERVICE: Warm, attentive accommodating
AMBIENCE: Lakeside charmer, alfresco and inside
ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday to Thursday noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon to 11 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.); weekend reservations recommended, major credit cards accepted, wheelchair accessible
Bella Vie, which mixes Italian and French in its name and adds even more in its kitchen, is the creative heir to Aria Melanie.
Credit chef Fabrizio Perinelli, a master of pasta who came to the South Shore from south of Rome and ran the kitchen at the now-closed Aria Melanie, which ranked among the best Italian restaurants in Newsday’s annual Top 100 list.
Today, Perinelli is cooking with confidence and flair at the departed’s old Bay Shore address, overlooking rippling Lawrence Lake.
Perinelli, general manager Mike Lekaj and two other investors took over the restaurant from Aria Melanie’s owner, Frank Mandato, who left the business. They’ve refreshed and improved the look, especially on the lakeside deck. More important, they continue to make this spot a dining destination.
Aria Melanie opened after The Lake House moved to a grander space with a view of Great South Bay. Veteran diners also will remember this venue as the long-gone Duck Pond Inn, which sported mallards on the lake and Pekins on the menu.
Perinelli does prepare a juicy “duo of duck,” with breast and confit of leg, its richness cut by a pomegranate gastrique. But before you start slicing away, be sure to order one of the chef’s inviting appetizers. Maybe a special of fried zucchini flowers stuffed with seasoned ricotta; or another of figs packed with Gorgonzola cheese and wrapped with crisped prosciutto.
His crostini of eggplant caponata is delectably sweet-tart, and deserves better bread. Ample, bacon-wrapped shrimp are fine but don’t need their “sweet-spicy” sauce, which tastes like routine barbecue. Perinelli veers west-by-east with an acceptable tuna carpaccio, here seared yellowfin, shining from an orange-soy reduction.
But a salad of Cara cara orange, fennel, pine nuts, Pecorino Romano cheese and red leaf lettuce materializes barely dressed and duller than its ingredients suggest. Beet salad with Granny Smith apple, Humboldt Fog cheese, raspberries and caramelized pistachio does seem overorchestrated, but is a flavorful alternative.
The fritto misto of shrimp and calamari, however, stays bland despite the advertised honey-chipotle sauce. Instead, pick either the well-seasoned baked clams oreganata or the generous arancini, rice balls stuffed with chopped meat, peas, saffron rice and Fontina cheese.
Fontina stars in Perinell’s best dish: gnocchi alla bava. The gnocchi, the size of bay scallops, are light, airy, perfect, finished with a creamy cheese sauce that’s enriched with strands of caramelized onion and tiny shavings of black truffle. It’s more than a pasta del giorno; so far, it’s the pasta dell’anno.
Pappardelle alla Bolognese also is excellent, with a veal ragu, English peas and Parmesan cheese. The house’s lasagna Bolognese, meaty and satisfying, rivals it. For a huskier pasta, try the paccheri al forno, similar to oversize rigatoni, in a rustic pork sauce, with mozzarella and a boiled egg.
Pork tenderloin is a bit dry, despite its tasty mustard sauce. Beef short ribs show up as tender strips off the bone, atop a puree of celery root and potato. But chicken alla diavola doesn’t turn devilish despite an accent of Calabrian hot peppers.
Striped bass in cartoccio, or cooked in parchment with white wine sauce, porcini, parsley and garlic, leads the few seafood selections. It’s a meaty cut of fish, delicately prepared. Have an order of escarole or asparagus on the side.
Professional, Italian-style cheesecake and cannoli vie for first among the desserts. The house-made twist on tartufo may not evoke a leisurely stop at Tre Scalini and the Piazza Navona. But the setting and the sweet do point to the good life, in any language.