Providing some Italian flair to the bustling Cow Harbor nightlife and dining scene, Campari is a quaint trattoria that features a menu of flavorful victuals. Open any meal with a list of appetizers that include clams, calamari and mussels, while there are also soups and salads available to warm up the palate. Come time for an entrée, steady classic favorites are ready at every turn--with chicken, veal and seafood done in easily-recognized manner (Parmigiana, Francaise, Marsala, Saltimbocca, Piccata, among others), while personal pie pizzettes and heroes are also part of the selection, giving diners an easy dine-in or take-out option for every day.
11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.
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By day, David Eldridge works as an attorney. Most evenings, he does double duty as pastry chef and waiter at Campari, the trattoria-pizzeria that he and his wife, Diane D'Amaro, recently bought. The couple's investment in the place seems more than just financial. Not only do they wait on tables, they make it a point to get to know diners and remember them the next visit.
It wasn't always that way at this site, which has been home to a virtual parade of restaurants. Chef Antonio Reyes, who has seen the kitchen through several incarnations (Auntie A was its last), seems to be hitting his stride. His renditions of Italian classics are already attracting crowds, especially when there's a show across the street in the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport.
Dinner begins auspiciously with warm focaccia and/or addictive little garlic rolls from the pizza oven. An appetizer special features scallops, served in their shells, with a mellow and garlicky tomato-based marechiara sauce. It's a fresh and attractive presentation. While I'm not displeased with the mixed hot antipasto - baked clams, mozzarella sticks and eggplant rollatini - I find it a bit boring, the clone of what's served at countless other suburban Italian restaurants. But a green salad, gratis with entrees, is sprightlier than most. I actually finished mine.
On a night when I crave pasta bubbling beneath a mantle of molten cheese, the creamy baked ziti satisfies me. So, too, do the jumbo stuffed shells filled with lush ricotta beneath a cloak of tomato sauce and a melt of mozzarella.
I heartily enjoy a bowl of rigatoni Bolognese, al dente pasta in a well-seasoned meat sauce enriched with a little cream. But in the case of the spaghetti and meatballs, I long for meatballs that are lighter, made with more bread crumbs - too much meat makes them almost burger balls. On the other hand, a dish I thought wouldn't work at all - rigatoni with broccoli rabe and (on the request of a friend) chicken instead of sausage - comes off surprisingly well. The poultry is moist, the greens tender and not too bitter. And everything melds.
The veal Parmesan is tender and properly melty. A vegetarian could order the eggplant parm and be just about as happy. Linguine with clam sauce features clams both in and out of the shells. The dish speaks (but doesn't shout) of garlic.
One night, I get a special of monkfish piccata, which is served over sauteed spinach. The firm-fleshed fish goes well with the caper-studded lemon sauce. A similar lemon sauce gilds the chicken Francese, a light choice.
You won't want to overeat the main course, since Eldridge's desserts are worth every calorie. His white chocolate-Macadamia nut cheesecake is opulence defined, even for someone who doesn't ordinarily like white chocolate. A cloud of a tiramisu vanishes from my plate in a matter of moments. Do I dare take another forkful of the chocolate mocha torte, a dessert that wouldn't be out of place at a French patisserie? Oh, what the heck.
Finales change according to Eldridge's fancy. There may be crème brûlée. Or Key lime pie. It's a third act to rival whatever may be playing across the street.
Reviewed by Joan Reminick, 5/7/08.