From the way we dress to the way we dine, formality has long been on the wane. Eating on a white tablecloth is no longer a prerequisite to a sublime meal, and some of the island’s most talented chefs are found in relaxed settings where seasonal ingredients, treated with respect, are the organizing principle.
Whether it is bison sliders, seared local scallops or that bistro classic, a perfectly roasted chicken, these top Long Island bistros can be counted on to deliver a stellar meal in laid-back surrounds.
Note: Most dishes mentioned are samples of the restaurants’ menus and may not be available at all times. Seasonal changes and dish substitutions are common.
Almond (1 Ocean Rd., Bridgehampton): French and New American cooking fuse with flair at Almond, a bistro with an old-fashioned Hamptons vibe of tin ceilings, subway tiles and vintage wallpaper, plus a handsome bar and on-point service. Start with oysters and clams from the raw bar, then segue to dishes cooked by chef -owner Jason Weiner, from saffron risotto with rock shrimp and chorizo to rack of lamb with green garlic hummus, chickpeas cooked with lamb fat, garlic chive oil and sheeps-milk cheese. Much of the produce and fish that pass through Almond's kitchen are raised or caught on the East End, but their preparations often come with a sense of whimsy, too. Even Almond's more seemingly straightforward plates, from carrot salad to "le grand" macaroni and cheese -- arrive with thoughtful twists, from green harissa to preserved truffles. Finish with chocolate pot de crème. More info: 631-537-5665, almondrestaurant.com
Grass-fed flatiron with chimichurri, as served at Almond in Bridgehampton.
Blackbird Kitchen & Cocktails
Blackbird Kitchen & Cocktails (3026 Merrick Rd., Wantagh): Food and drink carry equal weight at this gem of a spot on Merrick Road. The bar dominates the front of a cozy dining room, and with good reason: This is the playground of bartender Jonathan Gonzalez, whose house cordials and bitters, riffs on the Old Fashioned, and wildly imaginative cocktails are among the best anywhere. Chef Chris Perrotta picks up where the bar leaves off, plating soul-pampering things such as smoked Gouda gougères, roasted chicken with spring vegetables, Jerusalem artichoke puree and tarragon-wine sauce, or seared sea scallops with sugar snap peas, roasted garlic and mint. Perrotta is especially deft at making pasta, which finds its way into dishes such as spaghetti cacio e pepe and seasonally stuffed ravioli. The house burger is simple but luxe, and sheathed in Vermont Cheddar cheese. More info: 516-654-9200, blackbirdli.com
The Norweigian Devil Has No Wife, prepared with aquavit, aged rum, champagne acid, honey cream and soda water at Blackbird Kitchen & Cocktails in Wantagh.
Gatsby's Landing (1362 Old Northern Blvd., Roslyn): Pastas are the star of the menu inside this elegant, clubby, comfortable space, where chef Juan X. Pareja's dishes exude his experience at high-level New York City restaurants. Start with the silky crudo of the day and then move on to peppery, comforting cacio e pepe, finished with mint; squid-ink tonnarelli studded with blue crabmeat, saffron and bottarga; or tagliatelle with spring peas, bacon and pecorino. For the carb-averse, the kitchen turns out an excellent brick chicken or lamb chops. Either way, the staff injects the experience with drama via a long pass in the middle of the dining room where dishes are plated with flourish. More info: 516-277-2318, gatsbyslanding.com
Cacio e pepe pasta with spaghettini, pecorino romano and mint served at Gatsby's Landing in Roslyn.
Lola (113A Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck): What happens when a globe-trotting foie gras magnate opens a restaurant that pays homage to the cuisine of his parents' homeland, Israel, and then infuses it with North African and Southeast Asian flavors? At Lola, you can taste the results. When owner Michael Ginor is away collecting new ideas, executive chef Lenny Messina turns out dishes such as green eggplant salad with coriander; charred octopus with roasted leeks and hazelnut romesco; fattoush salad with kale, mint and sumac; za'atar-roasted chicken with pomegranate couscous; seared duck breast with toasted farro, braised Swiss chard and spiced jus, and halvah parfait. Sunday brunch is inventive, as is the $55 chef's tasting -- and hummus lovers will find five versions here, including one topped with spiced ground lamb. More info: 516-466-5666, restaurantlola.com
Hummus with herbed falafel is a very good starter at Lola in Great Neck.
Lost & Found
Lost & Found (951 W. Beech St., Long Beach): This cozy diamond brings idiosyncratic chic, thoughtful cooking and great wines together in the West End of Long Beach. The tight quarters feature a communal table, a few stools at the bar and a handful of tables, all with a view of an open kitchen. It's casual in the extreme, but chef-owner Alexis Trolf's cooking is both highly refined and imaginative -- and you won't know what's on the menu until you show up. The dozen-odd small plates change frequently and might include a salad of persimmon, blood orange, Marcona almonds, basil and pomegranate (in the fall), seared scallops with fennel pollen or octopus with smoked paprika and potatoes. Larger dishes -- such as a dry-aged rib-eye steak or roast chicken -- can easily sate a couple. Finish with excellent housemade dessert, such as apple pie. Cash only. More info: 516-442-2606
The cod croquettes and small plate of chorizo at Lost & Found in Long Beach.
Market Bistro (519 N. Broadway, Jericho): This smart New American bistro has an informal style, upbeat mood and a seasonal menu from chef Chuck Treadwell. Come for the bouncy-fresh market greens, rock-shrimp tacos or skillet-roasted organic chicken with spaetzle (which seems to grace half the tables) and then return for the MB burger, a rib-eye-brisket-short-rib winner loaded with cheeses and finished with aioli. The bar is a convivial place for solo dining, or imbibing a craft cocktail such as an Old Fashioned made with both bourbon and black-fig vodka, as well as a booze-soaked cherry. More info: 516-513-1487, marketbistroli.com
The organic chicken with jardiniere vegetables, spaetzle, and thyme jus at Market Bistro in Jericho.
Off The Block Kitchen & Meats
Off The Block Kitchen & Meats (501 Montauk Hwy., Sayville): Off The Block breaks the mold in myriad ways: It's a market, but also a restaurant; it has a cozy dining room, but the best seats in the house are at the counter, overlooking the open kitchen; the steaks are stellar (choose one from a display case, and the chef will sear it as you watch); and ramen carbonara, pulled pork quesadillas and garlicky steamed clams over crostini are all daily options. There is no bar here -- instead, the fridges are full of fabulous beer, wine and cider for the grabbing. The all-American burger, two beef patties layered with American cheese, pickled onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles and Thousand Island dressing, is swoonworthy, as are the fries that come alongside. More info: 631-573-6655, offtheblockmeats.com
All American burger made with two 4oz. beef patties with American cheese, pickled red onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles and thousand islands dressing served on a brioche bun at Off The Block Kitchen & Meats in Sayville.
Perennial (990 Franklin Ave., Garden City): At this assertively modern spot, chef Peter Mistretta captures the essence of mostly local and often organic ingredients, with a particular fondness for vegetables at the peak of flavor. Warm Parker House rolls are a staple year-round, but the rest of the menu shifts with the seasons. The chef cures his own organic pork belly -- with spices such as fennel and coriander -- and then crisps it until the outside crackles for the house bacon, served with a poached egg. Brussels sprouts come with onion confit, tahini and golden raisins, octopus with caracara oranges, chickpeas and black garlic. Frilly capricci pasta is, at least in spring, veiled with a ramps and spinach pesto, and seafood and chops are always on point. More info: 516-743-9213, perennialrestaurant.com
Polenta with roasted Brussel sprouts and mushroom, topped with Parmesan and a fried egg, at Perennial in Garden City.
Salumi (5600 Merrick Rd., Massapequa): Salumi and sister restaurant Bar Plancha (931 Franklin Ave., Garden City) have a similar ethos of gutsy yet refined small plates, thoughtfully chosen cheeses and cured meats, and eclectic, well-priced wine lists. "Plancha" refers to the Spanish-style flat-top grill that gives a great sear to the sea scallops with green-curry broad beans, yogurt, spiced almonds and Thai basil, or a hulking dry-aged strip steak with roasted marrow. Over at Salumi, the vibe is equally congenial and the small plates hearty and creative, from wild mushrooms baked with cana de cabra cheese or slow-cooked lamb neck with brown-butter croutons, tomato molasses and yogurt. Both kitchens stay open 'til midnight, except on Sundays and Mondays, when they close at 11 p.m. More info: 516-620-0057, salumibarli.com
Scallops browned and served in a lemon butter sauce at Salumi in Massapequa.
Small Batch (Roosevelt Field at 630 Old Country Rd., Garden City): The term "farm-to-table" gets thrown around by a lot of restaurateurs, but Tom Colicchio, the superstar restaurateur and head judge of Bravo TV's "Top Chef," walks the walk. When the Mattituck homeowner opened Small Batch adjacent to the Roosevelt Field mall, he chose to focus on local vegetables, meat and fish, some of it from the East End, as well as wines from Bedell and Paumanok, beer from Barrier Brewing, and locally distilled spirits. The sleek-but-warm modern farmhouse interior has two sides -- a comfy yet polished bar-lounge and an expansive dining room with a view of the open kitchen. There, chef de cuisine Tommy Chang, a veteran of Colicchio's organization in Manhattan, turns out impeccably presented plates such as grilled lamb sausage with kale, broccoli rabe and Calabrian chiles; honeynut squash agnolotti with brown butter and sage; and monkfish "osso bucco" with roasted tomatoes and olives. The Wagyu burger is a showstopper. More info: 516- 548-8162, smallbatchrestaurant.com
TC's Wagyu Burger with balsamic onions, tomato jam, truffle pecorino, bread and butter pickles and crispy new potatoes, served at Small Batch in Garden City.