In the years that Alessandro Acquista spent inside his family's Queens trattoria, there was barely a task he didn't do. As a teenager, he'd work alongside his father on the weekends. Later, after studying at the French Culinary Institute and working in other New York City restaurants, he returned to Acquista Trattoria and worked every station and position — from salads to pasta to the grill to the bar — before becoming the restaurant's head chef, which he did for a decade.
Now that Acquista has opened his first restaurant as chef-owner, Sandro's Italian in Manhasset, he's still game for any task, especially during a labor shortage. "I'm bussing tables, I'm expediting. I might host a little bit more one night and another night, be in the kitchen," said Acquista. "I'm doing whatever it takes for people to be happy."
Sandro's opened in September in the Northern Blvd. space which most recently held BLVD 25 with a menu that is squarely focused on Italian- and Sicilian-American dishes, from starters of grilled octopus dressed simply with salmoriglio sauce (olive oil, lemon, oregano and garlic) and Sicilian-style baked eggplant (with pecorino cheese for salty tang) to chicken and veal served Marsala-style, Parmigiana-style, Milanese-style...
"I embrace the fact that I am Italian-American," said Acquista. "You will see all of the classics."
Every piece of pasta at Sandro's is made in house on an extruder that enables thinner noodles such as bucatini (served oreganata-style with Manila clams) and spaghetti (served with pomodoro), in addition to chunkier pastas like gnochetti (with sausage and broccoli rabe) and the snail-shaped lumache (served Bolognese-style). Some appear as specials, such as black paccheri, stained with squid ink and topped with frutti di mare.
"I'm big on pizza, and wanted to put in a pizza oven, but couldn't fit it in," added Acquista.
Besides the petite kitchen, Sandro's retains BLVD 25's modern lines, and the 60-seat upstairs dining room still has a small bar, room-length banquettes and low lighting, plus a few outdoor tables out front. Acquista is firm about keeping the vibe, and dress code, casual.
Sandro's is open for dinner from 5 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday, with lunch to come as labor allows. Appetizers start at $17, salads at $14, pastas at $20 (for spaghetti pomodoro) and meat dishes at $28. Desserts, from ricotta cheesecake to tiramisu and cannoli, are made in house, and cost $10. The bar has a succinct wine, beer and cocktail list.
Sandro's Italian, 1496 Northern Blvd., Manhasset. 516-467-4266. sandrositalian.com