Ruggero's Italian Restaurant
5768 Rte. 25A (inside the Shoppes at East Wind), Wading River
SERVICE: Varies depending on night; either warm and seamless or very erratic
AMBIENCE: Roomy and polished, with tables and booths amply spaced — but deafening when busy
ESSENTIALS: Open daily 11:30 a.m., closes 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; the bar may stay open later. Ample parking in the Shoppes' lot, but reaching the restaurant requires some walking; handicapped accessible.
Portion size is much beloved on our bonny island. Prodigious dishes — those that spread from elbow to elbow, and from which you might extract tomorrow’s lunch — tend to play well in public opinion.
Ruggero’s, the anchor restaurant inside the Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River, certainly has that covered. Titanic-sized pastas and sturdy, tame Italian entrees are the lingua franca here, and most dishes come in two sizes: large, and really large (aka family-style). Even so-called “single” portions — of fried calamari, for instance — can feed at least two, and are a triumph of largesse over substance.
Ruggero’s is owned by Shoppes owner Kenn Barra, and general manager Sebastien Suarez helped construct the menu; it hews to classics such as that fried calamari (peppery, but served lukewarm) and lodestars such as baked ziti, Parmigiana and pasta, plus a few seafood and meat entrees. The restaurant is visible from a prominent juncture — the confluence of Route 25A and Sound Avenue, where many people turn to go to the North Fork — but actually reached by parking on the edge of the complex and wandering past specialty shops and a carousel (child trigger warning).
Inside, the dining room is airy and handsome, with seating spread between regular and half-moon booths, wooden tables, a showpiece bar and a pretty patio. An open kitchen lends a frenetic quality, and if the place is crowded — waits can already reach 45 minutes midweek — the clamor and thumping background music can make it hard to converse with friends or servers. (Those servers are cordial but their presence, erratic; one night they never missed a beat, while on a busier evening every request meant using an animated flag-down.)
At the outset, a spongy semolina bread lands on the table, along with a gossamer whipped garlic butter — the bread is OK, good for mopping juices, but it makes puzzling reappearances throughout the meal. For instance, the appetizer shrimp Ruggero — perfectly-cooked giant prawns drenched in a brandy-laced cream sauce — comes on hunks of semolina that grow soggy and nearly impossible to cut by the time they reach the table. Thinner toasts may have fared better.
Shrimp, this time poached and chilled, are also the linchpin of a refreshing seafood salad of mussels and tender calamari rings in tomato vinaigrette. The madre of all starters, though, are supple balls of cream-filled burrata nestled with shavings of prosciutto and drizzled in basil-infused olive oil. Choose it with confidence over the salumi board, strangely anemic compared to the rest of the dishes here.
A few pastas are made in house, such as ribbons of pappardelle in an excellent short-rib ragu that doesn’t stray from the old-country standard of little tomato and much earthiness. An orrechiette-and-broccoli rabe pasta, however, suffers from dried-out sausage and a lack of oomph, save for a hint of red pepper.
Entrees get more inventive. A not terribly spicy shrimp fra diavolo is heaped with shrimp, clams and mussels that soak up the tomato-laced broth until they become juice bombs. Zuppa di pesce is similarly appointed with shellfish — this time, lounging in an herby tomato broth studded with fregola — but somehow doesn’t achieve the same harmony.
The semolina reappears as juice-soaked rafts beneath a hulking strip steak pizzaiola. The peppers, onions and mushrooms that blanket the chop cannot mask the fact that the meat itself seems blunted in flavor. On the meat front, the chicken cacciatore — red wine-braised dark and light pieces in a peppery tomato sauce packing serious heat — takes home the ribbon.
There are 50 shades of tomato sauce at Ruggero’s, and a creamier, caper-laced rendition that sets the tempo for a falling-apart monkfish fillet Livornese, one of the best dishes here.
By-the-glass wine choices (try the Baby Amarone ) are solid and bottle prices within the comfort zones of many wallets. Cocktails follow a something-for-everyone ethos, from a decent take on an Aperol spritz to a boozy blood-orange Old Fashioned.
You can seal the deal at Ruggero’s with house-made desserts; the ricotta cheesecake is grainy, and a Cookie-Puss-style calzone almost overwhelmingly large. The superb mocha tiramisu — softened wafers threaded with layers of mocha-dusted cream — is what might linger in your memory.