Tony Dushaj's devotion to the name Tre Scalini verges on the obsessive. Decades ago, in Rome, he fell in love with the famed original on the Piazza Navona. Later, in Manhattan, he worked at a restaurant with that appellation and, in the late '90s, opened his own Tre Scalini in Huntington. He sold it in 2000 (it later became Piccolo Mondo).
Now, after a hiatus of several years, Dushaj is back as chef and co-owner of this modest-looking spot in Melville. Its modus operandi seems ideal for the times: straightforward Italian food, large portions, low prices.
Caesar salad is simple and fine; the dressing has just the right Parmesan bite and lightly coats every piece of romaine. A hot antipasto combination special includes a luxurious eggplant rollatini made with spinach; baked clams oreganata have an ideal crumb topping-to-clam ratio, while stuffed mushrooms aren't at all stuffy.
Dushaj respects pasta by cooking it al dente. I'm won over by his rigatoni Amatriciana, ridged tubes bathed in a smoky bacon-onion-tomato sauce. All too often, pasta dishes involving salmon are overly rich and salty, but the farfalle Tre Scalini (bow ties with pieces of cooked salmon and green peas in a tomato cream sauce) is a harmonious success. Linguini with white clam sauce features fresh clams in and out of the shells, briny-sweet and garlicky.
Dushaj also succeeds with a lush, citrusy shrimp Francese. Filet of sole Fiorentino stars fresh fish in a lovely lemon-and-white-wine sauce. Lemon, garlic and roasted peppers also spark up that suburban classic, chicken scarpariello.
Dinner concludes on a comforting note with Dushaj's boozy, creamy tiramisu and his moist home-style Italian cheesecake. What's more, the espresso is excellent.
There should be a law against raspberry vinaigrette, lollipop-sweet and tossed into a timeworn cliche of mesclun, pears, pecans and goat cheese. I also expect better meatballs than the dense spheres that top a bowl of well-sauced spaghetti.
In case you're wondering about the tartufo, the forte of the Rome original, it's the same commercial stuff you'll find virtually everywhere.
While the restaurant may not be a century-old tourist attraction, like its namesake in Rome, this Tre Scalini has all the makings of a Long Island keeper.