7927 Jericho Tpke., Woodbury
AMBIENCE: Comfortable, bright, modern and buzzy
ESSENTIALS: Open for lunch and dinner, Monday to Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 to 11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 to 9 p.m. Major credit cards and reservations accepted, wheelchair accessible, limited outdoor seating.
Rustic Root in the Woodbury Village shopping center cooks of-the- moment dishes such as bistro classics, unfussy fish fillets and vegetables coaxed for maximum flavor. The food comes from a kitchen where women, uncharacteristically, make up half the staff.
These women are working with executive chef Tom Gloster, winner of Food Network’s “Chopped” and former executive chef at Lula Trattoria in Mineola (now closed) and Rothmann’s Steakhouse in East Norwich.
You’d think that in 2016, the women-in-the-kitchen dynamic could be taken for granted. With restaurant kitchens still a male domain, it’s not the norm.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and I have to say it is pretty unusual,” said Keith Giannadeo, who partnered with Jim Rehm to open Rustic Root. He said he’s getting more female applicants as they graduate from culinary school — inspired by Food Network and a decade-long cultural focus on restaurants and chefs.
In the dining room, with polished white subway tiles, an open kitchen, reclaimed wood accents and cushy banquettes, Rustic Root isn’t so rustic. A room of neutrals is a departure from the surf-themed Zim Zari California Coastal Grill in Massapequa Park, where Giannadeo and Rehm offer a family-friendly Mexi-Cali menu. While some aspects of dining here show they’ve run successful restaurants, a visit can range from satisfying to merely OK as the service and consistency of the dishes get their groove.
Among starters, carrots shed their dowdy reputation in a beauty plate, with orange, purple and yellow carrots accented by citrus, seasoned with toasted cumin and garnished with a confetti of slivered almonds. Tomato salad shows off the season’s finest, with local heirloom varieties, pickled onion, sorrel and burrata for decadence. The farm and egg salad delivers radishes and russets, bacon, egg and tomato over frisee, topped with sherry vinegar. It’s a lovely starter.
The chicken liver earns creaminess with a triple pass through a sieve, so it’s a near-velvet spread for bread. A flatbread is a flavorful first bite to stave off hunger. It features pecorino, ricotta and chive topped with a runny egg, but truffle essence overwhelms the dish.
Fish fillets are the standout entrees. Gloster says none are fried because he likes fish unadorned. The monkfish with grapes and celery root is a fine order. Or go for the signature dish, halibut paired with savory mushrooms and barely cooked snap peas. I’ve seen it on three occasions, and when it’s cooked with care, it’s one of the best dishes on the menu.
The burger is hit or miss. During one visit, a medium-rare, grass-fed patty hits the mark, while on another visit, it underwhelmed, arriving with overseasoned, pallid fries.
It’s a relief to visit a restaurant where the ubiquitous burger sticks to the sidelines. Like more women in local restaurant kitchens, it’s a subtle departure from the norm.