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Secrets of Flight review: Bistro-inspired restaurant earns 3 stars in Port Washington

The owner/chef of the Secrets of Flight restaurant in Port Washington details how he makes his signature octopus dish.  (Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)

Secrets of Flight

170 Main St., Port Washington

516-883-1863, secretsofflight.com

COST: $$-$$$

SERVICE: Smooth, accommodating

AMBIENCE: A bistro, cozy and lively

ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday to Saturday 5 to 10 p.m., Sunday 5 to 9 p.m., closed Monday; reservations recommended; major credit cards accepted; wheelchair accessible.

Secrets of Flight takes off in Port Washington.

It’s a bistro-inspired charmer that mixes French, Mediterranean and New American cuisines as easily as the bartender shakes up a Sidecar.

Aleksander Betko’s new restaurant combines traditional and contemporary in a dining room that almost glows under a pressed-metal ceiling. Floral wallpaper competes with a few stylized black-and-white photos, a bright painting, and teal hues to complete an eye-catching mashup.

That bar, framed with handsome woodwork and lined with bentwood stools, gets especially spirited on Saturday night. The eatery’s tables and booths complement the playful scene.

But don’t expect a Piaf reverie. And the anticipated theme of flight, to reference Port Washington’s role in transatlantic airline service, is, well, elusive.

What’s not is the flavor of brandade de morue, the cool-weather delight of whipped salt cod and potato that brings a bit of Provence. Enjoy it with the house’s good bread and a glass of Chablis or sauvignon blanc. Continue going Gallic with a satisfying pate, billed as de campagne but pretty smooth, flanked by cornichons and grainy mustard, ready to be matched with beer.

Betko prepares a lush, coral-shaded lobster bisque and a mild, vegan potato-leek soup. But the opener dubbed shrimp bouillabaisse, made with lobster stock, could use a shot of ruddy, garlicky rouille to evoke even a flyover in the vicinity of Marseille. A tender, gently smoky and meaty grilled limb of octopus, atop shaved fennel and boosted by Moroccan olives and orange supremes, comes together as an excellent Mediterranean mix.

An outlier in this company is the special appetizer of pulled-pork sliders, a very tasty trio to be shared, especially while you’re nursing a cocktail or a Greenport Harbor brew. There are a couple of snappy salads, one with beets and another starring radishes.

The kitchen puts together a vegan cassoulet, two words that you’d expect to crash into each other harder than a battering ram into Carcassonne. The result is uneven, underseasoned, undercooked and much more than a plane ride removed from the classics of southwest France.

But the Eurotrip returns with a rich carbonnade a la flamande, the wintry ale-fueled stew, here made with Brandt Beef short rib, potatoes and rainbow carrots. The Brandt Beef New York strip steak au poivre, thick, juicy and cooked precisely to order, has just enough bite and is finished with a refined, creamy sauce.

Betko’s roast chicken approaches mandatory. The big bird is enhanced with hearty choucroute, or pickled cabbage, for a hint of Alsace, and stubby, deftly done fingerling potatoes. Seaside, the top main course is the now-everpresent branzino. But the almost-sweet fish does get a boost from almond beurre blanc and well-seasoned Persian rice.

The cheese plate, sandwiched among the appetizers has its appeal at this point, with Valdeón, a Spanish blue; a semisoft, grassy Tomme de Savoie; and Humboldt Fog, the creamy goat-milk cheese from California with a line of edible white ash.

Desserts star crème brûlée, lid crackling the moment your spoon touches the caramelized sugar. Easily recommended: a tarte Tatin, the upside-down apple tart that delivers more than a whisper of authenticity. They’re both rivaled by a dense, delectable chocolate tart, with a spark of sea salt and rum, plus swirls of caramel.

Fitting that the finales should stand out at the address once occupied by the much-missed Main Street Bakery. Secrets of Flight, far from concealed, makes it a destination once more.

Reserve your first-class seats.

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