Meta Osteria & Barra
2752 Oceanside Rd., Oceanside
AMBIENCE: Modern-traditional mix
SERVICE: Attentive and welcoming
ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday to Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 p.m., closed Monday; weekend reservations recommended; major credit cards accepted; wheelchair accessible
Meta replaces Sole, bringing a sunny taste of Italian cooking to the neighborhood. It’s Long Island’s latest mangia magnet.
In full, this is Meta Osteria & Barra. In Italy, an osteria refers to a spot less formal than either a ristorante or a trattoria, with modest prices. Meta comes close.
It’s a stylish, warm newcomer run by the former Sole team of managing partner Dennis Durdaller and chef-partner Robert Carmosino.
They oversee a streamlined, modern dining area where traditional Italian and Italian-American favorites compete. But there are some welcome, contemporary touches, too.
The house’s “bag of donuts,” for example, contains shrimp-and-crab zeppoli, crisp mouthfuls fried like fritters, ready for a dip in lemon-caper aioli. Eggplant “meatballs” also highlight the antipasti, finished with tomato sauce and ricotta salata.
Just as appetizing is the trio of bruschetti, far removed from those cardboard toasts with unripe cubes of tomato inflicted elsewhere. Bruschetta with caponata, goat cheese, pine nuts and chive oil stands out. One topped with smoked mozzarella and pancetta; and the other with fresh mozzarella and prosciutto are very good, too. Likewise, the refreshing watermelon for a last suggestion of summer, here emboldened with Gorgonzola cheese and spicy capicola.
All this leads to Pop Pops pasta, or small shells, with raisin-pine nut enriched meatballs, broccoli rabe, red peppers and toasted breadcrumbs. Grandmas are extolled via Nana’s ragu, which takes in meatballs and sausages, sweet and spicy, with rigatoni and herbaceous ricotta. No need to wait till Sunday. Pappardelle in a lush sauce spurred by slowly roasted pork may not be your classic Bolognese. But it’s savory enough to make you forget about geography.
Chicken Parmigiana ravioli may be an original creation, a respectable curiosity in a light pink sauce. But it shouldn’t be surprising at a restaurant where Parmigiana has its own category on the menu. The familiar chicken and eggplant versions are equally recommended.
The perfectly symmetrical braciole, though filled with mozzarella and prosciutto, disappoint in texture and flavor. You’re better off with the spice-rubbed pork tenderloin. Meta presents a juicy, crisp-skinned half of a duck bolstered by caramelized onion risotto.
Shrimp “limoncello” with basil risotto and spinach is bland and a bit overdone. A seafood special of mild, moist pompano accented with a salsa of mango, tomato and cucumber swims ahead of the ever-present salmon, which Meta pan sears.
Meta offers panuozzo, Campania’s pizza-dough answer to panini. Here, the Neapolitan-style pressed sandwiches feature either pork tenderloin prodded by broccoli rabe and roasted peppers; chicken cutlet with caramelized onions, arugula and goat cheese; and Famous Nana’s meatballs, which make a return engagement under this heading, with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella.
The obligatory dessert is cannoli, which you fill at table, maybe while humming “O Sole Mio.”