It was March and chef-owner Steven Del Lima was just about set to open his newest venture, Hooks & Chops, in Commack. The menu was ready, the dining room renovation was nearly done, and it was almost go time.
We all know what happened next. Hooks & Chops — an apogee of sorts for a chef who has spent nearly three decades in kitchens, helming more than a few — fell into that peculiar limbo of restaurants that had to freeze in place at the starting gate.
On Oct. 1, Hooks & Chops finally unlocked the doors; azure awnings (plus a backlit logo) announce its arrival on Jericho Turnpike, next to Pep Boys. Among the COVID-era tweaks are newly installed HEPA filters in the ventilation system, amply spaced tables, partitions at the bar and ultraviolet stands thatr disinfect the dining rooms each night.
Long gone are the red booths of Ruby Tuesday, which occupied this space until 2016; in their place are neutral woods, pressed-tin ceilings, sleek banquettes and a bar underlit by cobalt light. The dining rooms — designed by Del Lima and his wife, Jennifer — have the feel of airy, gender-agnostic steakhouse with a subtle overlay of harborside vibes, which mirrors the long seafood-to-steak arc of the menu.
The lengthy menu is an amalgam of Del Lima's broad experience, from stints at Aureole, Daniel, and Le Bernardin in New York City to, closer to home, Perfecto Mundo in Commack, CoolFish in Syosset and Vitae and Black & Blue Seafood Chophouse. Del Lima opened the Bayville restaurant RSVP in 1997, as well as WildFin in Huntington; he was also once a partner at an oyster bar in Manhattan.
Most recently, Del Lima was executive chef at Piccolo Mondo in Huntington, where he earned three stars from Newsday in 2018. He left to pursue Hooks & Chops, and said did research on the Commack area before designing the menu. "What I believed was missing in Commack was the best of both worlds," he said, referring to land and sea. "I do a lot of French-style cooking, with Japanese influences. I tried to be a little bit different; I didn't want to just do an a la carte steakhouse."
Among Hooks & Chops' starters are crisp blue-crab beignets with cabbage slaw and coffee-barbecue glaze ($17), baby-artichoke "Milanese" (young artichoke leaves with a crumble of toasted panko and whipped goat cheese, for $16) and grilled speck and arugula-topped pizza with ricotta and fontina cheeses, fig preserves and honey ($14), which was also on the menu at Piccolo Mondo. Soups, salads, mussels ($15 to $16), charcuterie and cheese boards ($17 to $25) and seafood towers ($27 to $69) pad the starter lineup.
The kitchen dry-ages some steaks, such as porterhouse ($59) and a tomahawk rib-eye ($68), in a cedar-lined closet with black lava salt. Steak frites, a maple-brined tomahawk Duroc pork chop and chili-glazed Hudson Valley duck breast over fava-bean purée are among the other terrestrial plates; crispy, whole red snapper, cedar-plank halibut with lobster home fries and peanut-crusted ahi-tuna represent some of the seafood dishes. Entrees — which include a few pastas — mostly fall between $23 and $68, and each has multiple layers, from mango-black cherry mostarda to wasabi-whipped Peruvian potatoes.
Desserts ($9 to $12) are equally ambitious, including Del Lima's signature twist on baked Alaska, with coffee-buttermilk cake and cappuccino-hazelnut gelato. There is also a separate bar menu, sporting bites such as truffle fries and lobster corn dogs.
Cocktails are rife with cool-weather nods, such as a blood-orange bourbon old fashioned. Befitting the food menu, there are several Chardonnays from northern California (for heartier fish dishes) as well as big, bold super Tuscans and Napa cabs on the wine list, which sprawls from old to new world and has plenty of options by the glass.
Hooks & Chops opens for dinner at 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday, and 4 p.m. on Sunday. Find it at 6330 Jericho Tpke., Commack. 631-600-0521. hooksandchops.com.