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J. Michaels Tuscan Steakhouse, Northport

Chef Vincent P. Michaels works in the kitchen

Chef Vincent P. Michaels works in the kitchen at J. Michaels Tuscan Steakhouse in Northport. (Jan. 6, 2012) Credit: Jeremy Bales

J. Michaels Tuscan Steakhouse combines two Long Island favorites in one sharp restaurant.

Italian cuisine and steakhouse staples share the menu at this vibrant and colorful newcomer, which takes over the 19th century house long-occupied by La Capannina.

The vintage place looks refreshed and feels revived, from the rustic decor sporting wines and produce at the entryway to the glowing dining room, where you'll enjoy them. What defines the establishment, however, are attentive service, excellent food, wine to match and minimal fuss.

Credit chefs Vincent P. Michaels and Ron Gelish, who make the big-hearted eatery an instant destination. Michaels shares management duties with Jay Kaufman. That accounts for the name.

Gelish's local experience includes executive-chef posts at Burton & Doyle in Great Neck, Chas. Rothmann's in East Norwich, the former Sagamore Steakhouse in Syosset and Mac's in Huntington.

Their theme is "Old World charm, New World dining." And there's plenty of overlap.

Dishes described as "new" include appetizing, cured-salmon rolls filled with colossal lump crabmeat, finished with poached asparagus, caramelized fennel and mustard; and the sweet, light surprise of lobster meatballs in marinara.

But you'll be just as satisfied with the gently smoky combination of grilled calamari and poached-then-broiled octopus, enlivened with a glaze of balsamic vinegar; and the Barolo-braised short ribs atop mashed potatoes, a main course masquerading as a starter. Of course, the shellfish cocktails are recommended.

A blackboard lists the steaks, headed by a thick, dry-aged New York strip and a hefty porterhouse for two. But you can veer Italian just as easily and savor a perfect, irony-free rendition of spaghetti and meatballs, with fresh ricotta on the side.

The big fish is dubbed tuna Papa Carlo, deftly seared and sashimi-grade, completed with mint relish, charred tomato and onion. Shrimp Anna Maria, egg-battered and sauteed, is dull in comparison, adrift in butter-lemon-white wine sauce. Lobster bisque needs more depth of flavor. Fennel-and-celery root soup doesn't.

On the side: crusty hash browns, whipped potatoes and creamed spinach, plus sauteed broccoli rabe detonated with cherry peppers and sauteed escarole boosted with white beans.

Don't skip dessert. Chef Michaels offers an epic wedge of chocolate-mousse pie with an Oreo crust; and a slightly more restrained slab of classic cheesecake. And anyone still committed to a new-year diet can pick the martini glass of fresh berries -- minus the delectable crème anglaise.

Chocolate truffles arrive gratis.

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