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Long Island restaurants with chef's tasting menus, theme nights

Three-spice scallops (fennel, cardamom and coriander) with scallion

Three-spice scallops (fennel, cardamom and coriander) with scallion chutney and saffron-cauliflower puree are served at Wild Side Bistro in Oakdale.   Credit: Rob Gulotta

Ordering from the regular menu. That’s so 2019.

There’s no better way to fight the winter doldrums than taking a flight of culinary fancy, and Long Island restaurants offer countless opportunities to do just that.

Many chefs offer a tasting menu in addition to the regular menu because it affords them the chance to highlight what’s best and most interesting that day. Others plan a weekly, biweekly or monthly event where the whole restaurant is given over to a themed meal. There are restaurants that exist solely to serve ever-changing tasting menus, and many more that dabble in a combination of all these categories.

Nassau

2 SPRING

Where: 2 Spring St., Oyster Bay

What: Family-style supper

When: Every Sunday 

Price: $49 for 4 courses

Jesse Schenker’s two-year-old Oyster Bay charmer has just launched a supper series that benefits local charities and customers’ wallets: 20% of the check is donated to an organization such as the town’s Raynham Hall, the Youth and Family Counseling Agency of Oyster Bay-East Norwich, Planting Fields Foundation. The menu changes every week but tends to be more “down home” than the restaurant’s usual modern American fare. A recent dinner included grilled shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, prime rib with peppercorn jus, black truffle potato hash and shaved Brussels sprouts, apple pie.

Bear in mind: Schenker also does an elaborate 10-course “Mondays with Jesse” tasting menu the second Monday of every month. Tickets, $225, must be purchased in advance.

More info: 516-624-2411, 2springstreet.com

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BEGINNINGS

Where: 1986 Park St., Atlantic Beach

What: "Taste of Culture" dinner

When: Every Wednesday 

Price: $50 to $60 for 5 courses including beverages

Beginnings opened in 2016 with a literary theme — the décor features framed first pages of famous novels as well as antique card catalogs and typewriters — and within a few months owner Ben Frieser launched a series of monthly “Taste of Literature” dinners pairing classic novels such as "The Great Gatsby" with food and wine, props and costumed wait staff. The series got so popular that it became weekly and expanded to include films, TV shows and music. Past dinners have included a tribute to “Friends” (from the menu: “How you doin’” meatball Parm sub washed down with a “Smelly cat” drink), “Silence of the Lambs” (herb-crusted lamb chops with fava beans served, of course, with a nice Chianti) and “The Godfather” (Clemenza’s “You might have to cook for 20 guys one day” ragu; “The best in the city” veal Marsala accompanied by a “Success in the New World” made with Dewars, Amaretto di Saronno and mint). Upcoming dinners include tributes to “Star Wars” (Jan. 22) and “The Princess Bride” (Jan. 29).

Bear in mind: This is the rare dinner where the pairings are usually cocktails, not wines. The imaginative drinks are the work of Megan McNamara and Gyanna Yungandreas.

More info: 516-239-7483, beginningsrestaurant.com 

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LA NONNA BELLA

Where: 660 Franklin Ave, Garden City

What: Chef’s tasting menu

When: Every night

Price: $115 for 4 courses

Lino DeVivo has been running the kitchen at La Nonna Bella since 2010 and, since then, he’s been trying to introduce Garden City to the authentic flavors of Italy, while still offering Caesar salad and chicken Parm. His tasting menu is a chance for him to highlight the most exciting dishes on the regular menu (wild boar salami, fava-bean puree and chicory served in a bread “chest”) and offer other dishes that are only available as specials. He’s big on rabbit, sometimes braised, sometimes done in the style of porchetta, wrapped around a filling of garlic, fennel, rosemary and lemon zest and then roasted. Consider yourself lucky if you are offered cavatelli with mussels and cannellini beans served on a bed of fava-bean puree.

Bear in mind: Call ahead to request dishes that require a few days to prepare, such as trippa alla Romana or bacala.

More info: 516-248-0366, lanonnabella.com

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LOLA

Where: 113a Middle Neck Rd, Great Neck,

What: Chef’s tasting menu

When: Every night

Price: $59 for 6 to 8 course ($10 supplement for lots of foie gras)

It’s always been tough to categorize Lola, a sorta-Mediterranean restaurant that splits the difference between special-occasion venue and neighborhood hangout. But chef Lenny Messina’s tasting menu takes customers even further afield. It always starts with a tabletop-filling expanse of meze (hummus, eggplant dip, fried cauliflower) but then might head off to Thailand for basil chicken, India (via Italy) for chickpea fritter chaat, Texas (via Israel) for hummus with smoked brisket. There might be a classic French onion soup, or a flan made with sea urchin (and topped with more sea urchin). Whatever you order will be noted on the computer so that your next visit is filled with new tastes (and perhaps some old favorites).

Bear in mind: The whole table must participate.

More info: 516-466-5666, restaurantlola.com

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BLACKBIRD KITCHEN & COCKTAILS

Where: 3026 Merrick Rd., Wantagh

What: Chef’s tasting menu

When: Every night

Price: $65 for 5 to 8 courses

Chef-owner Chris Perrotta’s regular menu is so full of imaginative-yet-simple takes on Italian and New American classics that choosing what to order is more difficult than finding street parking on Merrick Road. The solution (to the ordering problem): take advantage of the tasting menu, comprising, he says “whatever dishes on my menu that I think you should be having to get the best representation of what I do.” He’ll serve smaller tables about seven courses but, for six or more, he’ll condense it into four or five, many of them served family style. “Otherwise, you’re there all night.” Successful blasts from the recent past include smoked Gouda gougeres, Gem salad with medjool dates, toasted almonds, mustard vinaigrette and 18-year-old balsamic; Spanish octopus with Brussels sprouts leaves, rigatoni with Berkshire pork sugo and sweet-potato anolini with brown butter and sage.

Bear in mind: The whole table must participate.

More info: 516-654-9200, blackbirdli.com

Suffolk

EATMOSAIC 

Where: 418 North Country Rd., St James

What: Tasting menu

When: Dinner Tuesday to Saturday

Price: $86 for 5 courses

Tasting menus are nothing new to Jonathan Contes and Tate Morris, the chef-owners of eatMosaic: It’s been their stock in trade almost from the day they opened in 2005 and, other than some a la carte bites at the new bar (courtesy of a 2018 expansion), a tasting menu is all they serve. Mosaic’s menu varies daily, depending on the market and the chefs’ whims, but you might encounter Polish onion soup with kielbasa and caraway; sea scallop ceviche with lentil falafel, butter lettuce, Marsala eggplant caponata, grapefruit puree and shaved blue cheese; orange-lacquered pork shoulder with General Tso’s cauliflower, peanut-rice noodle salad and fermented black-bean gremolata; herb-roasted beef strip with ratatouille tartlet, balsamic-charred haricots verts and Parmesan aioli; dark chocolate creme brulee with Black Forest cherry compote and cocoa “soil.”

Bear in mind: Add wine pairings for $45

More info: 631-584-2058, eatmosaic.com

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MARONI CUISINE

Where: 18 Woodbine Ave., Northport

What: Chef’s tasting menu

When: Dinner Wednesday to Saturday

Price: $110 to $160 depending on time and day

Long Island’s longest-running tasting menu endures, even though chef Michael Maroni, the genius behind it, died last March. Now, as when it began in 2001, a meal at Maroni’s is a wedding-worthy onslaught of generous servings, often featuring lobster bisque, Thai spring rolls, Kobe beef sliders, eggplant Parmesan and, always, the signature “million-dollar potato chips" topped with caviar. Maroni’s schedule and pricing structure are complex (“like Mike’s brain,” said his wife, Maria): Diners who are seated at 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. are fed anywhere from 15 to 20 items, costing $140 on Wednesday and Thursday, $160 on Fridays and Saturdays. A $110 “off-peak tasting menu,” served at 4 p.m. every night the restaurant is open, includes about five fewer dishes than the regular menu and diners must be out by 5:30 p.m. New for 2020 are “Whatever you want winter Wednesdays” during which the $110 price is good all night or you can order appetizers ($20 to $30) and entrees ($30 to $45) a la carte.

Bear in mind: Wine / beer and gratuity and tax are included in all the prices.

More info: 631-757-4500, maronicuisine.com

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PAWPAW POP UP

Where: Hosted by Bruce & Son, 208 Main St., Greenport

What: Tasting menu inspired by the North Fork

When: Three Saturdays per month, two seatings per night

Price: $70, prepaid. Seating is very limited.

This is the fifth year that Taylor and Katelyn Knapp are “popping up” at Bruce & Son in Greenport (which is only open for breakfast and lunch) to serve a hyperlocal menu drawn from the bounty of Long Island’s East End. Every week is different but a recent menu featured Blue Duck (Southold) sauerkraut rye bread with spent-coffee butter; Southold Shindig oysters with buttermilk, dill and turnip; black carrots roasted in Peconic kelp butter, local monkfish with grilled celtuce, nasturtium and amaranth; pork shoulder and sweet potato with cranberry and a cream of fallen leaves (!). The Knapps also run Peconic Escargot, a farm in Cutchogue that sells its snails to chefs all over the East Coast, and every PawPaw menu can be supplemented with a roast-snail course (served with classic caviar accompaniments) for $18.

Bear in mind: During the winter, Knapp also hosts once-a-month Saturday-night duck barbecues at Greenport’s Lin Beach House. Price is $60.

More info: pawpawpopup.com

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MONSOON STEAK & SUSHI

Where: 48 Deer Park Ave., Babylon

What: Tour of Asia dinner

When: Friday night

Price: $29.95 for 3 courses

When it first opened in 2012, Monsoon was subtitled “Asian Kitchen and Lounge” and earned four stars from Newsday for its Peking duck, Korean pancakes, Vietnamese summer rolls and more. Ultimately, the restaurant rebranded itself Monsoon Steak and Sushi but, late last year, decided to return to its authentic-Asian roots — at least once a week — for Friday night "Tour of Asia" fixed-price dinners that focus on one Asian country and change every two months. The kitchen will be in Vietnam until the end of January. Appetizer choices include banh mi sliders and banh xeo (seafood crepe); main choices include pho noodle soup with filet mignon and caramel-braised monkfish congee; for dessert: Vietnamese coffee sundae. Next stop (February and March) is China.

Bear in mind: The whole table does not need to participate.

More info: 631-587-4400, monsoonny.com

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TRATTORIA

Where: 532 N Country Rd, St James,

What: Chef's tasting menu

When: Every night

Price: $65 for 5 courses

Stephen Gallagher’s jewel box of a restaurant already feels like a chef’s table; you can see the chef in the open kitchen from every one of the 30 seats. But to be fully Gallagherized, go for the tasting menu which gives him “the opportunity to bring in some more unusual, higher-end ingredients — and have fun with them.” With hedgehog mushrooms the chef might make a mushroom-bone marrow risotto, surrounded by a mushroom-Parmesan brodo. There could be foie gras with pickled cherries, or duck or any number of dishes based on pasta from Brooklyn-bred Sfoglini Pasta Shop, for example, rigatoni with kale, stracciatella cheese and toasted garlic bread crumbs.

Bear in mind: You must call at least 24 hours in advance to reserve. Entire table must participate.

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WILD SIDE BISTRO

Where: 1551 Montauk Hwy, Oakdale

What: Tasting Tuesdays dinners

When: Every other Tuesday night (more or less)

Price: $55 to $65 for 5 courses including wine

Jay and Raquel Jadeja’s four-year-old eatery already does quadruple duty as an Indian-inflected fusion restaurant, wood-fired Neapolitan pizzeria, music venue and sustainable-food resource, so why not add another element to the mix? Jay started Tasting Tuesdays in 2017 “to bring in the community, give myself the chance to learn new cooking techniques and expose my customers to them while also giving them a deal.” His menus have traveled from Italy and Greece to Turkey and India. He highlighted the skills of his Honduran and Salvadoran cooks with a handmade taco night and recently dug into Native American culinary culture with a dinner that included wild rice and corn cakes with blackberry jam, fish-head soup with wild rice and maple syrup, Red Lake walleye trout with wild rice and juniper berries (he likes wild rice) and a roasted sweet corn sorbet. Celebrate Chinese New Year on Jan. 28 with, among other dishes, Berkshire pork “lion’s head” meatballs and hot-and-sour soup with ginger, bamboo shoots and paneer.

Bear in mind: The whole table must participate

More info: 631-791-1800, wildsidebistro.com

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