Wednesday, April 17
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Homey and Happening

slide6As soon as you open the door to aMano, an Italian eatery in Mattituck, there is a hominess that hits you. Maybe it’s the long, burnished mahogany bar alive with happy tipplers. Or the warren of intimate rooms that flow seamlessly into each other. Or the congenial low lighting. Or the wood-fired pizza oven in the back room, giving off a flattering flicker of flame. But most probably it is the fact that many years ago – five restaurants and a couple of bars ago – this two-story edifice was a private residence.

Of course, it could also be the delectable smells arising from the kitchen, not least of which is the yeasty fragrance of home-baked bread, which arrives quickly to our table. Light and airy, the thick warm slices are a wonderful foil to the frigid night outside.

We are here on a Thursday during Restaurant Week and the place is packed to its proverbial gills. Despite the lively conversation around us, we have no trouble hearing each other talk. Co-owner, Adam Lovett, is zooming around to help the wait staff on this busy night, but we are able to grab him for a moment. He tells us that normally on a Thursday night in winter the place is about three-quarters as full. Sounds pleasantly lively to us. Normally Thursdays are half-price pizza night, he says. Note to self: Come back another Thursday. Did we mention that they have smoked duck pizza?

We started with a pair of the very popular and tasty Slowly Simmered Meatballs, a fine-grind version that is an old family recipe of Adam’s partner, Tom Schaudel, who is also the executive chef. The spoonful of ricotta was a nice touch. Frankly, they were so big we could have just had those and a salad and been on our way. On a more vegetarian note, we also had the Sautéed Cauliflower starter, nice and crunchy but we would have preferred the sweet bite of more of the dish’s golden raisins and pine nuts.

According to my dinner companion, the Chicken Scarpa, a combo of lightly floured dark meat, sausage, artichoke hearts and the zing of sliced cherry peppers, was “after my own heart.” The Braised Short Ribs were exactly what they should be: tender and intensely flavorful (the wine in the sauce helped on both counts.) But it was the Pancetta-Scallion Potato Mash that came with it that was off the charts. Another note to self: Go back for the mashed potatoes.

Though our diets advised otherwise, we ended on a real up-note with a velvety piece of molten flourless chocolate cake served with coffee gelato. Need we say more?