A sense of having been here before takes hold on the very first visit to Spuntino in St. James. Maybe the feeling stems from recollections of meals eaten at the original -- and still popular -- Dix Hills location. Or from memories of the pizzeria-cafe-market once occupying this sideways-facing building. Then again, it could be that the partitioned pizzeria-ristorante resembles countless others dotting the Long Island landscape.
Still, it's a resemblance that goes only so far. Spuntino is among the more attractive of its ilk, with a spacious interior brightened by an expanse of arched windows. Friendly service adds to the overall experience.
How pleasant to share a crisp-puffy crusted Margherita pizzette from the wood-burning brick oven, perhaps sipping a glass of Chianti. Another appetizer geared to splitting with others is arancini al forno, rice balls served in a bubbling casserole with ricotta, mozzarella and a hearty meat sauce. Easy eating: baby artichoke piccata, egg-battered and covered with a brassy lemon-caper sauce.
A near-hit turns out to be linguine with shrimp scampi featuring nicely cooked shellfish, a garlicky sauce, julienne zucchini and a sprinkling of bread crumbs. What undermines the dish on one occasion is pasta cooked to near mush. Much better, on a subsequent evening, is a special called penne da Vinci, al dente quills topped with shrimp, mushrooms and peas in a pink sauce.
Fettuccine Bolognese comes across as properly cooked, rich and comforting, baked meat lasagna, a well-rendered homestyle classic. So, too, the chicken Parm, fried cutlets in a vibrant red sauce crowned by molten cheese. But chicken Sorrentino, boneless breasts topped with eggplant, prosciutto, mozzarella and Marsala sauce, seems like a piling on of random items. For true harmony, try a muffuletta panino, a New Orleans-style sandwich of Italian cold cuts with mozzarella, tomatoes, arugula and olive spread. Immensely satisfying.
A house-made chocolate layer cake is moist and rich, but the No. 1 finale coming out of the kitchen is a creamy, tipsy tiramisu. It's just what you'd expect at a neighborhood spot that runs on familiarity.