1870 E. Jericho Tpke., Huntington
SERVICE: Smooth and smart
AMBIENCE: Warm, welcoming, strip-mall spot
ESSENTIALS: Lunch, Tuesday-Friday noon to 3 p.m.; dinner, Tuesday-Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 p.m., Sunday 4 to 9 p.m.; fixed-price menu, Tuesday-Friday 5 to 6:30 p.m., Sunday 4 to 6 p.m. Reservations recommended weekdays, necessary weekends; major credit cards accepted; wheelchair accessible to street-level section of two-tier dining room
Piccolo Mondo opened in 2005. Chef Steven Del Lima makes it new in 2018.
The comfortable, dependable, fairly priced Italian restaurant suddenly has flashy New American accents that expand the repertoire and get your attention from appetizers to desserts. Del Lima brings big flavors to this “small world.”
He returns to Long Island after about five years in Manhattan, where he opened the now-gone White Oak Oyster Bar. Earlier, he sparked the cuisine at the departed Perfecto Mundo Latin Fusion Bistro in Commack and briefly at CoolFish in Syosset, as well as at a trio of Huntington restaurants, including the ongoing Black & Blue Seafood Chophouse.
His stage now is a two-tier dining room that includes a bar, and wine racks that are more memorable than the modest décor. You’re not here for the look. And the sharp and efficient staff immediately makes you focus on the picture, not the frame.
That begins with a tasty speck-and-arugula flatbread, boosted by fig preserves, whipped ricotta, Fontina and wildflower honey. Share it, as you will the tender and light flash-fried calamari with spicy red sauce and aioli.
Baked littleneck clams, with savory breadcrumbs and sweet shellfish, stand out on an island rife with the dish. Then, veer toward the sauteed baby artichokes “Milanese,” toasty and diverting, with whipped goat cheese, garlic and mandarin orange jam.
Meatier openers: grilled Australian lamb “lollipops” that hint of rosemary and sweet chile-and-apricot relish; and mild, satisfying braised meatballs made with short rib, set on Gorgonzola and polenta cakes, with a suggestion of horseradish aioli.
Ricotta gnocchi with burrata cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach, are fine and don’t really need the company of roasted lemon-pepper chicken nuggets, except if you feel protein deprived. Pappardelle Bolognese, with a veal ragu, some cream and Pecorino Romano, is more restrained than you’d expect. Orecchiette tossed with broccoli rabe, garlic confit and sausage isn’t, crowned with a dollop of whipped, slightly herbaceous ricotta. You’ll want an extra scoop.
Del Lima really gets going with his main courses, led by two epic chops. The 16-ounce “Tomahawk” veal chop Parmigiana, pounded thin and expanding almost beyond the plate’s borders, is a grand affair, generous with cheese and fruity tomato sauce, for dinner and doubtless tomorrow’s lunch. The thick, juicy, brined Berkshire pork chop gets a welcome jolt from cherry pepper jus, plus roasted peppers, caramelized onions, fingerling potatoes and baby artichokes.
They’re almost rivaled by a special of pan-seared duck breast, accompanied by a fava bean puree and chard that just overdoes the sweetness via a mostarda of peach and cherry. A delectable special is crisp soft-shell crabs topped with mango-jicama-pea shoot slaw and completed with grilled pineapple, tomato, toasted coconut and a coconut-lime vinaigrette.
Pan-seared Alaskan halibut keeps the New American theme going with a couscous featuring grilled corn, sweet potato and asparagus, and a molto lush butter sauce. Lightly smoky, cedar plank-roasted salmon swims in with cabernet-merlot butter.
Bombolini here are warm, cinnamon sugar-dusted square versions of doughnut holes, in a metal basket, ready to a dip in strawberry preserves. Raspberries and blackberries surround the individual, New York-style cheese cake, made more immodest with whipped cream.
Lesser finales take in tiramisu-filled and, as such, near-heretical mini-cannoli drizzled with chocolate sauce; and a chocolate-strawberry-banana riff on shortcake. But allow for the dessert dubbed “cookies and milk,” two hefty chocolate chip discs served with a coffee-driven shake.
It suits a restaurant that has discovered youth once more.