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The Basil Leaf review

The Basil Leaf's salad with slightly smoky, grilled

The Basil Leaf's salad with slightly smoky, grilled octopus and white beans. (Jan. 23, 2013) Credit: Heather Phelps-Lipton

Just call it basilico.

The Basil Leaf is the latest and best identity for the longtime restaurant at The Plaza shopping center, situated along Birch Hill Road, just south of the Locust Valley railroad tracks.

It still has two main dining rooms, one with a brick bar and vintage black-and-white photos of celebrities; the other, more formal, earth-toned, decorated with botanical prints. They're separated by a closed-in patio-walkway.

But the two come together with satisfying food, which these days includes both casual and more tailored styles. Basil Leaf has prepared Italianate fare for many years, but it rarely has risen above one-star quality. That has changed, making the kitchen, at last, a competitor with many of its nearby rivals in Glen Cove.

And the place is packed on weekends. The understated establishment is a magnet for locals of all stripes, especially repp. Join the club. Owner Vito Patronelli takes a very balanced approach.

So, enjoy one of the very good little pizzas while figuring out the rest. The pizza bianca, capped with prosciutto, Fontina cheese, arugula and fresh tomatoes, brings a hint of springtime; the pizza piccante, with crumbled spicy sausage and roasted pepper has enough heat for winter.

A square of baked eggplant, finished with tomato sauce, ricotta and mozzarella, and a dish of red-sauced pork meatballs with grilled bread are bracing ways to start. Baked clams oreganata have their standard appeal. Likewise, slightly smoky grilled octopus with white beans, and the house's mixed-bean soup, a homey production starring cannellini, lentils, chickpeas and red-kidney varieties.

But a cannelloni special, crepe-thin and loaded with ricotta, mozzarella, burrata and Parmesan cheeses, will remind you of unwieldy, upscale manicotti. Pappardelle with a sausage ragu and porcini mushrooms is husky and assertive. A special of orecchiette with clams, chorizo and tomatoes has plenty of flavor. Basil Leaf's creamy risotto with speck and radicchio does, too.

The juicy, sliced sirloin steak atop arugula arrives as a reliable, to-the-point, all-seasons choice. Grilled lamb chops, rosy and herbaceous, also are pleasing, though the assorted vegetables alongside are pretty dull. A fontina-crowned pork cutlet, however, materializes overdone. If you're fishing around, the snowy, crisp-skinned branzino atop escarole is a mild catch.

Although it's chilly outside, try the lush, cold zabaglione with strawberries. The wobbly panna cotta and the bland cheesecake trail it. But crème brûlée and profiteroles suit the restaurant.

Now, that also goes for the tiramisu.

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