FOOD . .
645 Middle Country Rd., St. James
COST $$SERVICE Very good
ESSENTIALS Lunch, Monday to Friday, noon to 4 p.m.; dinner, Monday to Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m., Sunday, 2 to 9 p.m.; accepts major credit cards; wheelchair accessible.
On a wintry windswept night, Villa Olivetti exudes a warm glow. The Italian restaurant has a comfortable, timeworn look, its walls hung with an eclectic assortment of paintings, its dining rooms populated by a convivial crowd, many on a first-name basis with servers. Presiding over all is genial restaurateur Mauricio Oliveras, who is back after an absence of nearly two years.
Oliveras, who owned the long-standing Mauricio’s Orlando’s II at this site, sold it in 2013. Its successor, Spezia, didn’t last, so Oliveras took back the business, and relaunched it as Villa Olivetti. Returning with Oliveras are longtime manager Michael Navas and chef Ricardo Hernandez, who was born in El Salvador and trained in Naples.
The big lure here is the everyday value-oriented prix-fixe menu: $24.95 at dinner, $12.95 weekday lunch, with appetizer, main course, dessert and coffee all included. While you’ll find some dishes that carry upcharges, you can eat quite well without spending extra. And nobody tries to make you feel as if you have to.
The breadbasket holds a rustic, crusty loaf. One evening, the soup du jour is lobster bisque. It is silky-smooth, studded with pieces of lobster. Vegetable-stuffed mushrooms are satisfying, if not exciting; the same holds true of baked clams. An appetizer-sized portion of linguine with white clam sauce features lots of fresh clams, but the pasta is just past al dente. One afternoon, lunch begins with a beet salad with goat cheese and asparagus. It hardly seems worth the extra $2.95, since the vegetables are over-chilled, the asparagus topped with an overly sweet balsamic drizzle. Much better is a comforting bowl of stracciatella, chicken broth laced with spinach and egg whites.
Not surprisingly, parms rule here. Plated with well-sauced spaghetti, the chicken version is fork-tender, meltingly good. Better yet is eggplant parm, which comes out light and delicate. Chicken Marsala is rich and mushroom-intense, while broiled salmon, served with a Dijon sauce on the side, is simply but expertly cooked. A big hit is rigatoni melanzane featuring the chunky pasta with eggplant and tomato sauce and ricotta. Tops, though, is cavatelli alla Martha, al dente semolina dumplings with sausage, broccoli rabe, cannellini beans and hot peppers. It’s worth the extra $2.95 for a dish that is hard to stop eating.
Nobody rushes you if you linger over coffee and dessert. Tops among house-made choices are the lush flan and homey raspberry cheesecake. It all adds up to a lot of food and a lot of value.