The challenge for ambitious Italian restaurants on Long Island is how to serve authentic Italian cuisine without alienating the chicken-parm set. The latest contender is Verace in Islip, which opened on New Year’s Eve just next door to Tellers. (Both restaurants, as well as Prime in Huntington, H2O in Smithtown and Beachtree in East Islip are owned by the Bohlsen family.)
“Verace” means “true” in Italian and the restaurant professes a “sincere commitment to authentic Italian cuisine and wine.” To that end, the Bohlsens hired an authentic Italian chef, Francesco Torre, born in Tuscany.
The menu features five $4 sfizi, or snacks, such as crostini with cheese and honey or olives.Then come the nine antipasti which include assorted salumi ($11), pizza Margherita ($8) and baby romaine hearts with Caesar dressing ($7). Pastas (which are all made in house) range from $9 to $13, and all but two of the main courses are under $19. The exceptions are the veal chop and the osso bucco, which chef Torre said is made exactly as his grandmother made it.
Torre's first professional job was in the kitchen at Il Bottaccio, a Relais & Chateaux hotel / restaurant near his hometown, Massa. The 35- year- old cooked in leading restaurants in Siena, Florence, Lucca and Rome before coming to the U.S. in 2006. His first American job was as executive chef at Tra Vigne in Napa; he went on to cook at Fish in Sausalito and Knoxx in Lafayette.
Even in Napa, Torre said, he had to deal with American misperceptions of Italian food. “People would come into Tra Vigne and say, ‘you’re not Italian; you don’t have spaghetti and meatballs on the menu.’” His approach, then and now, is to sidestep the issue. “If you cook food so that it is really tasty,” he said, “it doesn’t matter if they don’t get it at the beginning.” He pointed to an item on Verace’s menu, Asiago sformata, a warm, molded custard made with Asiago cheese. “Our servers have done a really good job of explaining what it is to customers. They try it once, and that’s it.”
Verace is at 599 Main St., Islip, 631-277-3800.
Photo of Francesco Torre by Jim Lennon