Roots may be Long Island’s most convivial restaurant. From the warm service to the eccentric handmade furnishings to the well-intentioned menu sourced as locally as possible, the place works overtime to make you feel at home. The only thing that could have made a recent dinner there better would have been the food. Our meal was uneven, with many elements lacking clarity.
We enjoyed a beet-and-cheese salad on Israeli couscous and I appreciated the lovely red-leaf lettuce in the house salad, though I could have done without the sweet notes of dried cherries and mango-peach vinaigrette. The Caesar salad was made with the same lovely lettuce, not romaine, which is traditional for Caesar. It was a tentative salad anyway, with no anchovies or discernible shards of Parmesan.
Fondue was a real problem—not enough cheese, too much liquid. The result was a thin cheese sauce, not a rich, molten, cheesy mass. Good bread though.
I liked my long-cooked pork shoulder, though its polenta accompaniment lacked corny oomph—too much butter perhaps? A friend’s short rib was overcooked into stringiness, the flavors muddy. Friend Two had a vegetable-chicken stir fry special that was just an undifferentiated blob, more college cafeteria than New American restaurant. We all liked Friend Three’s moussaka: the meaty lamb ragu, lush béchamel and sharp tomatoes all tasted powerfully like themselves.
There was good bread pudding and brownie a la mode for dessert. I was gratified to see Roots serves Berceto coffee, roasted in Huntington, and SerendipiTea, blended in Manhasset. But my Darjeeling was brewed in way-too-cool water, resulting in a weak, tepid brew. A waste of what I know was an expensive tea bag.
Roots is at 242 Sea Cliff Ave., Sea Cliff, 516-671-7668.
At Roots, from left: Karen and Richard Santoro, parents of David Santoro, chef owner. Newsday photo, February 8, 2007 by Ken Spencer