47 Franklin Ave., Valley Stream
SERVICE: Attentive and prompt.
AMBIENCE: Casually retro-chic, but clamorous.
ESSENTIAL: Lunch Monday to Friday at 11:30 a.m., dinner Monday to Wednesday 5 to 9:30 p.m., Thursday to Saturday 5 to 10:30 p.m., Sunday 5 to 9 p.m.; wheelchair accessible, valet parking
It's understandable that Italian-American cuisine is often conflated with the cooking of Southern Italy — that's where most Italian-American families came from. But the two cuisines are distinct. Back in the old country, veal Parmesan and spaghetti with meatballs are unknown, garlic is a whisper, not a shout, and cooking follows the seasons.
At Pomodorino Rosso, Valley Stream’s chic new trattoria, chef-owner Antonio Bove, pays homage to his native Caserta, a town in Campania that is about 25 miles north of Naples, the region’s capital. Pulcinella, the clown character that is the personification of Naples, figures in the décor, which is retro-sleek, with plenty of subway tiles, bare light bulbs and a tin ceiling.
Just inside the entry vestibule is a lively bar whose terrific, mostly Italian wine list, compiled by beverage director Fernando Leon, features more than two dozen interesting wines by the glass, and more than 50 bottles, at least half of which are less than $40.
Bove and business partner Carol Cesone, who also own Uva Rossa in Malverne, have chosen to concentrate here on antipasti, pasta and pizza. The menu lists only five mains, though every day brings a meat and a fish special.
Bove successfully conjures the Bay of Naples with his frittura mista di mare, a medley of delicately fried shrimp, scallops and calamari that tumble out of a roll of butcher paper. Eggplant Parmesan, served in its own little cast iron skillet, is not about maximum ooze but about the interplay of slightly bitter eggplant and Bove’s sweet, barely cooked tomato sauce.
If they are on the specials menu, order the zucchini meatballs, three golden orbs filled with shredded squash and a little gooey cheese, sitting in a puddle of that mellow sauce.
"Pomodorino rosso" means red cherry tomato, and they — plus some yellow ones — are featured in the restaurant’s signature pasta, spaghetti al pomodorino, which is tossed, table-side, in a hollowed-out wheel of Grana Padano so that the pasta and shards of cheese meld with a sauce of tomatoes and garlic. Another fine pasta, and a new one to me, was penne veiled with a puree of cannellini beans, topped with chunks of spicy sausage and baked tomatoes.
A rare pasta misstep was the paccheri, big, floppy rigatoni that were sauced, stingily, with an onion-rich “Genovese sauce” and then saddled with a hunk of short rib that just sat there, unwilling to melt into the dish.
The dining room looks directly into the prep area where you can see pizzaiolo Sal Apetino (formerly of La Pala in Glen Cove) in action. With his gas-fired oven, Apetino proves you don’t need wood to make a great pizza. The 20-plus regular pies include a perfectly balanced Margherita as well as two pies inspired by pasta: puttanesca (tomatoes, capers, olives, anchovy) and Amatriciana (tomatoes, cured pig jowl, onions). There are also three “pizze fritte” — wherein the crust is deep-fried before being topped.
The last item on the pizza menu is something that I wish had been left off entirely: il gioiello ("the jewel"). Could there be anything less jewel-like than a burger topped with onions and bacon, sandwiched in a brioche bun . . . and then wrapped in pizza dough and baked? Of course the burger was overdone after its ordeal, and of course the brioche bun was squished by the expanding pizza dough. One pal likened it to a fast-food turducken. To me it was transparent Instagram bait, whose function is to be photographed, liked and shared — not eaten.
Also leaving me cold was the polpo burrata e carote, a big grilled tentacle of octopus draped over mounds of burrata, garlanded with strips of fried carrot strips and then doused with sweet balsamic glaze. Crowd-pleasing though the individual elements are, their flavors do not belong together.
Reasonable people can disgree about flavors, but I can't imagine any customer thrilling to Pomodorino Rosso’s noise level. The dining room is composed entirely of hard surfaces (including wooden seats that are as hard on the tush as they are on the ears) and even at half capacity, it’s difficult to hear your dining companions. Bove said that sound-absorbing wall hangings and seat cushions are on the way. I’m keeping my fingers crossed because his cooking deserves a setting to match its quality.