Beef tenderloin with roasted cauliflower and polenta at Casarecce in...

Beef tenderloin with roasted cauliflower and polenta at Casarecce in Bellmore. Credit: Spencer Vogel

How important is it that a restaurant be fun right now? Very, Alex Fiorentino would argue, taking our collective post-pandemic temperature. “People are dying to have fun,” insisted the 41-year-old owner of Casarecce, a new Italian spot in Bellmore. “We want so much to go back to the life that we had previously.”

No argument there, but what kind of fun are we talking, exactly? Chuck E. Cheese traffics in fun. So does Dave & Buster’s. You will be relieved to hear that Casarecce’s idea of fun is its own, except perhaps in the audacity of its design. One wall showcases vintage-looking mirrors of varying dimensions, a second screams “amore” in cursive pink neon, a third features geometric shapes and 27 shades of paint.   The design was Fiorentino’s.

"I wanted it to look a little bit gaudy and ostentatious. But the main idea was fun.” Hence the Campari cocktail cart wheeling through the dining — actually, not yet.

“Campari has balked at that so far,” laughed Fiorentino, who dreams of using it as a prop for his choose-your-own-negroni adventure, currently staged at the bar.

The most fun thing about Casarecce so far is the collaboration between him and chef Julius Miranda, an old friend and California native who in 2019 took over the kitchen at Meritage, Fiorentino’s Glen Cove wine bar. In an attempt “to stay relevant” during the pandemic, the pair held virtual aperitivo hours on Zoom et al., sampling wines chosen by Fiorentino and charcuterie boards created by Miranda to the accompaniment of 30 or 40 Meritage fans who’d pre-purchased them. “It was a blast,” said Fiorentino of the popular weekly event, “and really turned the corner for us in terms of becoming a restaurant for the neighborhood.”

Whereas Meritage’s menu is pan-Mediterranean, Casarecce’s attempts to showcase Miranda’s classical training in Italian cuisine, and he does not disappoint. Housemade pastas are a highlight, naturally, and Miranda’s cacio e pepe (emphasis on the pepe) is a luscious winner ($22/$33), but so is the obligatory veal chop Parmesan, a bone-in, 16-ounce portion butterflied, pounded, and barely contained by the dinner plate, an entree by turns mouthwatering and monumental ($38). Meltingly good pink medallions of beef tenderloin are paired with polenta and roasted cauliflower ($26), while perfectly seared scallops line up like steppingstones over a creamy Parmesan risotto ($26).

Not fun enough for you? Then head to Casarecce’s bar at happy, um, aperitivo hour, for charcuterie boards of nuts, olives, housemade fig jam and grilled bread prepared to the tune of buttery Gorgonzola Dolce ($10), capocollo ($10), prosciutto di Parma ($10), and oh yes, an unparalleled love of all things negroni.

Fiorentino's cocktail menu invites drinkers to peer deeply into their negroni tippling souls and decide exactly where they fall on the herbal-spicy scale — answer three questions with a 1-to-5 rating system and the bartender will craft a unique-to-you version that might necessitate spirits from fernet to Nolet’s gin to Don Julio tequila, which vermouth says you, and finally, where you belong on the bitter-sweet spectrum.

Fun, right? Campari, we're waiting.

Casarecce is at 2620 Merrick Rd. in Bellmore, 516-308-7224, Opening hours are Sunday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

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