Tra’mici Ristorante Italiano
4913 Merrick Rd., Massapequa Park516-308-7777, tramiciny.com
SERVICE: Prompt and charismatic
AMBIENCE: A three-star chef serves crowd pleasers in a bright space warmed by orange hues and floral arrangements.
ESSENTIALS: Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday; Sunday brunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; wheelchair-accessible, major credit cards accepted, reservations, happy hour half-price drinks Tuesday to Friday; family-style Sunday menu, large parties welcome.
There’s something to be said about becoming a regular. When the chef learns a diner’s taste, it gives him latitude to tailor dishes: more greens for one regular, a rare cut of meat for another. In exchange for frequent patronage, a regular often plays the role of the willing guinea pig by vetting new dishes, unusual wines or a daring dessert. Becoming a regular is an exchange of trust as much as an exchange of money.
It would likely pay to become a regular at Tra’mici Ristorante Italiano in Massapequa Park, in large part because Massimo Fedozzi is running the kitchen. The Genoa native earned three-plus stars from Newsday for his cooking at both Pentimento in Stony Brook and Vero in Amityville (now closed).
On a first visit you may not guess this is a restaurant with such an accomplished chef, in part, because people aren’t breaking down the door yet. The back story is that this used to be Cavendish & Ross, the steakhouse that Robert Saba opened in early 2015. A few months later, Saba hooked up with Fedozzi to run the kitchen and, by August, they decided to close, revamp the space and the menu. In September, the restaurant debuted as Tra’mici with an updated menu and, by November, it was outfitted with new booths, recessed lighting and cushy lounge seating in the bar.
The bright, long cavernous dining room is welcoming, if a bit out of Italian mode, dressed as it is in orange and browns. (Perhaps dimming the lights and adding votives to the tables would help.) The menu has enough variety to hold the interest of regulars as well as first-timers, though Fedozzi’s repertoire exceeds what’s on the menu. And the service is top-notch, from the bartender who is helpful in his suggestions to the charming servers who are accessible without being overbearing. You will be taken care of here.
I wish that Fedozzi would cook more lustily, making dishes that are unapologetically his style. But his is a problem that a lot of chefs are having these days. Though they might have the skill and experience to cook food that’s wholeheartedly of a place, diners are creatures of habit. In contrast to even a few years ago, it seems we’re becoming more hidebound, less willing to embrace unusual dishes in terms of the presentation or quality ingredients that are often a little more expensive. So in-season chicories are replaced with baby spinach. A traditionally sweet and sour caponata is mainly sweet, less complex so as not to offend anyone. A lasagna with meat sauce and béchamel may not appeal since it has no ricotta and gooey mozzarella.
Consider the starters, like a beautiful grilled polpo, octopus atop roasted potatoes and olives. The salsiccia sings with flavor, a blood orange reduction over sausage and potatoes. The salumi and cheese board is generously stacked with soppressata, prosciutto and mortadella, but the cheeses are underwhelming: asiago and fontina to please diners who want more rather than great. Another starter, citrus-marinated olives, are diner-friendly, minus the pits.
Among salads, the grilled Caesar holds its own, with a garlic and anchovy dressing, focaccia croutons and shaved Grana Padano. The focaccia is baked in house and served as a first course with fine olive oil.
Pasta portions are more than generous. They can be impressive, especially the fettuccine al doppio burro (double butter) that’s the best thing on the menu: a simple, decadent preparation of whipped butter and Pecorino Romano that coats pasta, finished with plenty of coarse black pepper. Orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe is well-seasoned and satisfying, even if the greens have been cooked down so they’re nearly unrecognizable. Back to the lasagna. Where’s the promised béchamel? During one visit, an especially dry piece with little evidence of béchamel or cheese seemed like an apology dressed in a glossy sauce. It was glorious on another visit.
Among meats, saltimbocca alla Romana is nice, a pounded thin medallion of veal sheathed in prosciutto tucked with sage, served on a bed of spinach. And the meat, filet mignon, points to the restaurant’s past life as a steakhouse, the cut served with mashed fingerlings and a side of broccoli rabe. It is conservative, but it is respectable.
I suspect as this partnership between Saba and Fedozzi gets a rhythm, Tra’mici will build a clientele of regulars while drawing in more first-timers. With a crowd-pleasing menu and a talented chef with a track record of top-notch cooking, I hope so.