Lovely dinner at Sugo in Long Beach. When it opened in June 2007, the restaurant’s motto was “Italian food with an urban edge,” but over the years it has morphed into what owner Alan Adams calls “New American with world influences.” As for the urban edge, I don’t know too many city restaurants that are this friendly. Chef Adam Goldgell (who landed at Sugo in March 2008 after stints at the late Hog House in Huntington Station and Burger 9 point 5 in Merrick) was greeting customers when we showed up, though he soon retired to the kitchen. But Adams was all over the place: going over the specials, answering questions, bussing, serving and chatting with everyone.
The highlight of our meal was an appetizer of tenderly braised baby back lamb ribs with a cherry-chilli chutney served with a little salad topped by a shard of papadum, the 45-rpm-sized spicy Indian crackers. Here was the rare dish that perfectly balanced sweet, sour and spicy—and the unexpected lambiness of the proceedings added a bonus note.
My pal’s chopped salad was a winner, as was her Berkshire pork chop, pounded into a Milanese and topped with an arugula salad. I got a big kick out of the halibut-and-friends in cartoccio (baked in parchment) pictured here. This was a very healthy slab of halibut steamed, along with clams, mussels, grape tomatoes, greens and squash, in a savory saffron broth. It is nearly impossible to cook this dish so that everything is cooked correctly, and in this case the clams were a bit overdone but that barely detracted from the spectacle of all that good seafood in one big package.
Saucy and sociable, Sugo Cafe brightens casual Italian cooking along Long Beach's expanding restaurant row.
In a colorful storefront opposite city hall, the newcomer gets your attention with good fare and a sense of style, crowned with a scoop of gelato.
The two-level establishment bills itself as a place for "Italian food with an urban edge." But, despite its late hours, the comfortable cafe may be enjoyed as much by families with kids as club-goers on hiatus.
Splashed with red and orange, festooned with art you'd politely call eclectic, and handsomely lit, the dining area does have its own version of chic. But what will make you come back is on the plate.
Or sometimes, on the table, since they don't always pick up what fell from a previous course. Service is friendly here, but sometimes lax.
The best way to start is with a brittle, tasty little pizza, suitable for two. The pie capped with manchego cheese, pancetta, mozzarella, herbs and tiny florets of cauliflower is a satisfying opener.
Likewise, the disc with Gorgonzola, mushrooms, garlic and onions; and the "bianca" that manages to include prosciutto, arugula and plum tomatoes in the definition.
These all are preferable to the overdone Sugo spring roll, dominated by sausage and broccoli rabe; and the over-orchestrated coconut-marinated chicken, finished with a timid peanut butter-ginger sauce.
Much better is the velvety pan-seared sushi-grade tuna, on a salad of mache and string beans in a chive-mustard dressing. A sextet of chicken meatballs, speared with vertical skewers and set in tiny puddles of tomato-cream sauce, is all right, and underscores Sugo's affection for artful white plates.
The arugula-and-pear salad, flecked with dried cranberries, honey walnuts and shards of pecorino cheese, sparks your appetite. Seasonal star: ripe, sliced Jersey tomatoes, with rounds of Vidalia onion and fresh mozzarella.
Sugo prepares commendable ricotta gnocchi, with peas, asparagus, tomatoes and creamy pesto. But spaghetti with tomato sauce is routine, and the tagliatelle with garlic, chervil, shiitake mushrooms and veal meatballs, surprisingly bland.
Parmesan-crusted chicken, with caperberries and lemon zest, updates the basic Parmigiana. But it's pretty dry. Your meal improves with specials such as the fine striped bass baked in parchment; and a respectable version of paella highlighted by lobster.
The kitchen enjoys desserts, especially gelati. Try the apple crisp with a generous scoop of vanilla. Skip the rubbery panna cotta.
Sugo Cafe is open till 1 a.m. It's a genial stop, as summer slips into fall.
Reviewed by Peter M. Gianotti, 8/29/07.