Viaggio Italian Chop House
324 Sunrise Hwy., Rockville Centre
SERVICE: Attentive, but stretched thin when crowded
AMBIENCE: High-decibel weekends, easygoing weekdays
ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 9 p.m. Closed Monday. Weekend reservations recommended. Major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
The word “viaggio” points to travel and touring. And the trips that restaurants at this address have taken have gone from the south of Spain to south of Rome.
Viaggio Italian Chop House succeeds Viaggio Tapas here. The look and the feel are pretty much the same, with exposed brick, unvarnished wood and stylized artwork in a two-level space divided between restaurant and bar. The open kitchen has stayed that way.
Owners of the new spot also operate neighborly Barosa, an Italian and Italian-American specialist with branches in Mineola and Rego Park, Queens, as well as Trotters Bar & Grill in Franklin Square.
The balancing act between Italian eatery and steak-and-chop house can be a delicate one, but Viaggio handles it carefully. There are lapses on the plate and in service, but generally the advice is to order carefully and you’ll have a good meal.
That means starting with arancini, or rice balls, generous and flavorful, with marinara sauce or the “chicken stack,” a squat tower of chicken cutlet, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The arancini could be shared; the stack would be fine in a little sandwich.
“Chicken Parm pizza” materializes more Parm than pie: a round construct of breaded chicken with marinara and snippets of basil, under a layer of melted mozzarella, all crust-free. Not what you’d expect, but tasty for two or more. And after biting into one of the house flatbreads, you may conclude that the absence of dough may be a plus. They have the texture of hardened cardboard, even though the toppings work.
Mussel pots are deservedly popular, fairly priced, and make for a sizable opener. The preparation dubbed “Luciano” packs slightly more heat than the marinara. Lobster broth and Sriracha are the primary competition. Baked clams oreganata, however, are overcooked, capped with singed breadcrumbs.
The shrimp cocktail turns up as a modest, straightforward affair and a satisfactory prelude to the steaks and chops. But the better, beefy main course actually is braised short ribs served with triangles of polenta. Savory, very tender and ideal on a chilly night.
Viaggio’s standout steak is a 16-ounce New York strip, tender and juicy, prepared as ordered. The 8-ounce filet mignon also is easily recommended. But, at least once, the 40-ounce porterhouse for two was on the chewy side. The chop shop’s winner: the 16-ounce veal chop. Have yours unadorned instead of Valdostana, stuffed with fontina cheese, prosciutto and watery spinach. Skip the double-cut pork chop, which is fatty and a bit gamey,
Viaggio goes in the right direction with the hefty production of “Sunday sauce,” a big bowl with braciola, meatball and sausage, richly sauced, atop rigatoni that’s seasoned with nostalgia. Orecchiette, with sausage, cannellini beans and sun-dried tomato is undermined by very stemmy broccoli rabe.
Seafood options are few, but do include a large cut of pan-roasted salmon, either charbroiled, oreganata or with Dijion mustard sauce. Otherwise, it’s shrimp Luciano, which translates into white wine, lemon, garlic and plum tomato.
Side dishes are uneven. The “roasted home fries” finish well ahead of the “truffle mash,” which overdoes the truffle oil. Underseasoned creamed spinach places the greens on a soupy sauce.
For dessert, the mini-ice cream sandwich leads, even though the macarons that fashion it are industrial-strength; the baked apple tart, pasty and dull. But the Italian cheesecake and the mini-cannoli are all right.
Consider them a side trip.