134 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor
SERVICE: Attentive, friendly
AMBIENCE: Country charm, city style
ESSENTIALS: Open for lunch, Monday to Saturday, noon to 3:30 p.m.; dinner, Monday to Saturday, 4 p.m. to closing and Sunday, 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Weekend reservations recommended. Major credit cards accepted. Ramp to dining-room entrance, where there are some steps.
Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald join you via a poster from the Apollo Theater. Dexter Gordon arrives in portrait. And there’s live jazz playing as if for your table alone from the popular bar.
This is Grasso’s, a Cold Spring Harbor landmark. It’s a magnet for very good New American cuisine and the music that makes it sing even more.
Gail Grasso’s restaurant, which started as Trattoria Grasso in Huntington in 1994, has undergone a few transformations over the years. Initially, this spot was Trattoria Grasso Due. Eventually it became the lone Trattoria Grasso, serving light Italian fare.
But, in its current life, the restaurant is at its peak, combining country charms with city style.
Gail Grasso is the gracious, ever-watchful host, ensuring that all goes smoothly in the handsome, subtly shaded dining area and the spirited bar. On any day, you’ll hear music that takes in jazz, show tunes, standards, pop, rock and more.
Sometimes, it’s amped enough to still conversation and spill onto Main Street, but it’s always entertaining, whether you’re here for brunch or for dinner, dining inside or alfresco. Check the music schedule.
Executive chef Tony Canales delivers a consistent, satisfying performance, too. His food, overall, is very much in tune.
That begins with a Mediterranean, orange-and-fennel salad, which adds arugula, celery, parsley and feta; and another of tender, grilled calamari boosted by capers, red onion, and Kalamata olives. Blue cheese and candied walnuts accent the salad of grilled peach and bibb lettuce. Tasty, housemade burrata ravioli is finished with a puree of roasted pepper and a drizzle of pesto.
A bowl of steamers delivers all you’d want on a summer night. But seafood empanadas, while filled with lobster, shrimp, and crabmeat, are a bit bland, despite the company of roasted tomatillo. And a mushroom pizza, capped with spinach, red onion, and Fontina cheese also fades fast.
Grasso’s revives your appetite with a fine version of cavatelli Bolognese, generous and flavorful, in a classic ragu. Fusilli Avellinese, with lobster, shrimp, and peas, unfolds in a mild, Cognac-cream sauce. Canales prepares a pleasing spin on the increasingly popular “zucchini linguine,” gluten-free and vegan, with baby kale, white beans, garlic, artichoke hearts, and olive oil. You may want to add fresh black pepper.
The kitchen stands out with a local rendition of cioppino, here a seafood stew with shellfish, squid, and some finfish, in a modestly garlicked tomato broth that you’ll finish with grilled ciabatta. Equally recommended: a special of grilled swordfish atop pesto risotto, and crowned with crabmeat and tomato. Likewise, a cut of beefy tuna, complemented with a suggestion of Cajun spicing.
And, whether you’re here for lunch, brunch, or dinner, invest in Long Island’s official summertime sandwich, the lobster roll, refreshing and well-made.
Meaty, “twice roasted” local duck rests comfortably on mushroom risotto, and finds the right match with raspberry sauce. The respectable veal chop Milanese improves on a limp Berkshire pork chop version, which can’t be rescued by the mantle of savory salad. The special of juicy strip steak with a blue-cheese topping puts you back in the contented mood that suits Grasso’s.
So does the production of bananas Foster, complete with pyrotechnics, expertly ignited tableside. The New York-style cheesecake and the house’s gelati are the essential alternatives.
By now, the evening’s music may, depending on the artist or artists, bring in a little Lady Gaga and Janis Joplin, perhaps The Beatles and The Band.
And you can be sure that everyone, either dining at table or playing on stage, is hitting high notes.