Situated on a busy road between a pizzeria and a sandwich shop is La Cucina, a storefront dining room that's Broadway's latest star.
It's owned by Luigi Muto, who also operates the neighboring Alfie's II pizza spot. Otherwise, the only connection between the two establishments is the warm focaccia in the bread basket.
That's very good, too.
Peter Curcio is the chef at the sleek sliver of a restaurant, decorated with colorful abstract paintings. He ran the now-closed Heirloom in Locust Valley and cooked at defunct Corbin & Reynolds in Long Beach. On a modest stage here, he's putting on a show.
Nibble on risotto croquettes, crisp and warm, enriched with speck and provolone, sent out with truffle-scented aioli. Lemon-caper aioli boosts crunchy-tender fried calamari more than the obligatory marinara does. Sweet sausage and chickpeas lift long-cut, neatly grilled octopus.
Mellow Vidalia onion soup, under a lid of bubbling Fontina cheese, prepares you for an early autumn. The roasted beet-and-Gorgonzola salad, with baby arugula and pine nuts, is good. Likewise, the chopped romaine riff on Caesar salad; a spice-poached pear number with goat cheese, arugula, frisee and candied pecans; and the mini-tower of sliced tomato and mozzarella, with olives and pesto.
Curcio prepares first-rate pastas, especially the homey, bracing cavatelli with sweet sausage-and-tomato "stew," finished with a scoop of creamy ricotta; and the whole-wheat linguine in a savory Bolognese sauce, veering pink with a bit of cream.
Lobster risotto, however, with strips of sun-dried tomato and mushrooms, doesn't come together. It's basically shellfish and rice, each fine but more at odds than in harmony.
What does compose neatly is the chicken scarpariello, a dish so often abused that sometimes you automatically pass it by. Curcio's is on the bone and served with sausages, peppers and fingerling potatoes. The dish's richness is cut with vinegary edge. It works.
That also goes for the generous, roasted rack of lamb with a hint of Dijon mustard. The "Tuscan BBQ" glazed strip steak is thick and juicy, but the harsh, metallic sauce undermines it. The satisfying accompaniments: fingerling potatoes, broccoli rabe, very crunchy onion rings.
Grilled, basil-flecked jumbo shrimp are overdone, set around a turret of tomato, mozzarella and portobello mushroom. Pistachio-crusted salmon provides the competition on a regular basis.
The creamy, mascarpone cheesecake and assorted gelati head the desserts. Date-and-raisin bread pudding with toffee closes in on mushy. The brownie sundae offers heft alone. You're better off with the amply crumbed, warm berry crisp.
And they do make zeppoli next door.