Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon
Toro Pazzo's bietole alpina salad with roasted golden

Toro Pazzo's bietole alpina salad with roasted golden beets, baby spinach, almonds and pecorino. (June 2, 2012) Credit: Johnny Simon

Like many ambitious Long Island spots, Toro Pazzo promotes itself as a Manhattan experience. It isn't. In fact, no Long Island restaurant is. There's merit in accepting one's ZIP code.

Even so, the Wantagh Italian restaurant whose name translates as "crazy bull" is nothing to snort at. Aspirations are announced early on when a basket of crusty olive bread, accompanied by a bright caponata spread, is delivered by an earnest, smiling server.

The chef is Rene Collado, who hails from the Dominican Republic. Like many chefs at Long Island Italian restaurants, he demonstrates that one doesn't have to be a born Italian to cook convincingly.

And he's on his game most of the time. Such as the one evening he produced a lovely salad of roasted golden beets with shaved pecorino, toasted almonds and a lemon vinaigrette. And another night, a rich, full-bodied pasta e fagioli, the classic Italian white bean and pasta soup. His crabcakes were mostly crab, loose-textured and deftly spiced. I was particularly taken with a carpaccio of Norwegian smoked salmon with ricotta salata and basil oil that imparted an herbal unctuousness.

But a friend's gnocchi, special-ordered with Bolognese instead of pesto sauce, came out mushy, its sauce highly salted. And a few fishy-tasting Manila clams undermined the otherwise very good linguine d'alba monte bianco made with pancetta, Tuscan beans and baby spinach.

Among better choices was the subtly truffle-scented fresh tagliatelle with shrimp, asparagus, red peppers and cremini mushrooms. And the signature pollo al Toro Pazzo, roasted chicken with sausage, onions, pepperoncini and roasted potatoes, a dish with rustic, robust appeal.

To finish, there was airy tiramisu. And lush panna cotta. Order both and share them with someone worthy.

The trickling of a water-wall near the bar is drowned out by the noisy crowd, which can make the narrow dining room reverberate. A weeknight might work best if it's intimate conversation you're after. But as the kitchen proves nightly, Toro Pazzo has other allures.

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