20 S. Station Plaza, Great Neck
SERVICE: Very good
AMBIENCE: Old World, new setting
ESSENTIALS: Open for dinner Tuesday to Friday 5 to 10 p.m., Saturday 5 to 11 p.m., Sunday 1 to 9 p.m.; Lunch, Tuesday to Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Monday. Weekend reservations recommended. Major credit cards accepted.
The best advice for hungry diners getting off the train in Great Neck used to be simple: Stay on till Port Washington.
In recent years, and for many reasons, the top choices for dining out in what used to be one of Nassau’s restaurant hubs have either thinned out or vanished.
Katerina could change that.
The new Italian ristorante brings back a style not seen in the neighborhood since the elegant Navona departed and creative Lola retooled. Katerina sends out first-class food, deftly prepared and expertly served.
It does so at the address vacated by Lamed Vav, Station Grill and, decades ago, Fuji-Ya. The look isn’t dramatically different from Lamed Vav’s. But effusive and attentive restaurateur Antonio Cerra, whose Manhattan kitchens included Il Gabbiano, Da Antonio and Padre Figlio, has transformed it. Credit him, daughter Kathy “Katerina” Cerra, managing partner Cary Rosner, and especially chef Alberto Argudo.
Add to this cast purveyors such as Pat LaFrieda and D’Artagnan for meats, and the local Marine Fisheries for seafood. Bronze-die dry pastas come from Gragnano, outside Naples.
House-made pastas also are excellent. Try pappardelle Piemontese, a lush production finished with wild mushrooms and truffled cheese. The airy gnocchetti Napoletani find a surprising match with buffalo mozzarella and tomato. And the imported bucatini that turns all’Amatriciana delivers a smoky, savory taste of Rome. There’s heady competition from a spicy version of rigatoni alla Norma with Sicilian eggplant, and linguine with Manila clams, in either white or red sauce.
Oysters Veneziana translate into sweet, ample bluepoints with pancetta and their natural juices, and a buttery accent. A velvety carpaccio of bison drapes over a hillock of arugula, with shavings of Parmesan cheese and a dab of pesto. The baked “soufflé” of buffalo ricotta isn’t exactly that, but it’s a tasty cheese number that may remind you of slightly dry lasagna filling, resting on a sweet-pepper puree.
One of the big catches at Katerina is the special of Dover sole meunière, rich in every way. More modest but good: swordfish marechiara, with clams and mussels. The regular menu relies on shrimp, either grilled, oreganata or scampi-style; and a fillet of the day.
But Argudo peaks with an exceptional braised short rib with Barolo sauce. The grilled rib veal chop also is outstanding. Katerina’s isn’t a snobbish joint. If you want that chop parmigiana, it’s yours, too. Likewise the chicken Parm or scarpariello. A tender Berkshire pork chop is spurred by fiery cherry peppers. On the side, consider escarole or broccoli di rape sautéed with olive oil and garlic.
Katerina offers a well-chosen wine list, with several bottles priced at $29, which amounts to a bargain compared with prices elsewhere.
Now, you may want something soothing. The silky panna cotta with strawberry sauce is ideal, well ahead of the standard Italian cheesecake, tiramisu and any ice cream finale.
By the way, your next stop is Great Neck.