Where Word-of-Mouth Is Well Deserved
Published: October 8, 2006
not a mind reader, but when a friend says, ''I just went to a
wonderful Italian restaurant in Hauppauge ,'' I can finish the
sentence: ''Cafe La Strada.'' This agreeable spot has been
inspiring hyperbole for 12 years. Why did it take me so long
to see for myself that the enthusiastic word-of-mouth was
unassuming double storefront in a small shopping strip next
door to a Mobil station, it gives no hint of the delights
within. One is the basket of housemade breads hot from the
oven: addictive garlic sticks crusted with Parmesan, an herb
loaf swirled with rosemary, cracked black pepper and olive
oil, and ordinary Italian bread that was far from ordinary.
bread was a harbinger of things to come. My dream meal at Cafe
La Strada would begin with two specials, the grilled octopus
appetizer and the silken sea bass in fresh tomato sauce, and
end with the menu's light-as-air lemon cheesecake. When one
diner asked if the octopus were chewy, our waiter put that
worry to rest, explaining that it was simmered for a few hours
till tender, marinated and then grilled. It arrived with a
gloss of vinaigrette and halved grape tomatoes.
Bua, who owns the restaurant with his sons, Steven and Robert,
comes from a family of chefs. His father cooked at the
Excelsior Hotel in Rome; he himself taught at the Culinary
Institute of America in Hyde Park; his son Steven is in the
kitchen at Cafe La Strada. (Hugo roams the dining room.)
Bua loves wine. The stylish main dining room features three
walls of floor-to-ceiling wine racks. The fourth wall displays
a mural of wine making in Italy. The second room includes a
lively bar with a few tables around it as well as a dining
area, separated by more wine racks, that often accommodates
large groups or private parties.
addition to the wine in those racks, there is an extensive
cellar of 30,000 bottles. There are offerings that carry price
tags in the thousands, but this is a list for wine lovers, not
wine snobs. Bottles start at $19 and there are plenty of good
picks in the $20's, including a lovely vouvray at $21 and a
Chianti Classico at $28.
prices are also moderate, with only three entrees more than
$20. (Some of the specials are also higher.) Good choices from
the menu were a classic veal saltimbocca crowned with
prosciutto, sautéed in butter and white wine and served on a
bed of spinach; a gentrified chicken scarpariello: off the
bone in a red-wine sauce dotted with bits of sweet garlic; and
a standout hay-and-straw pasta tossed in a lush cream sauce
with mushrooms, prosciutto, onions and peas.
specials were a thick, succulent veal chop in a Marsala-mushroom
sauce and fork-tender beef short ribs with a tomato gravy
sparked by orange zest and minced vegetables.
good as the sea bass was, a special of salmon in butter-caper
sauce was overcooked and disappointing.
a bull's-eye at the beginning of the meal were a special of
oysters Rockefeller napped with Mornay sauce and a bit of
spinach, and the menu's polenta appetizer, which was hearty
enough for a main course with its sausage slices, mushrooms,
tomatoes and Marsala sauce.
entree price includes a small but impeccably fresh salad of
romaine, shredded carrot and red cabbage and a slice of local
tomato in a balsamic vinaigrette, and a choice of a pasta side
dish or vegetable. One night the personable waiter failed to
ask what side dish we preferred and brought neither until we
reminded him. That server was also not on hand to guide the
runners delivering the food from the kitchen. On another night
our waiter was just as amiable and very sharp, and the service
for ice creams and sorbets, all desserts are housemade.
Recommended choices include the excellent lemon cheesecake, a
decadent chocolate mousse cake with a ganache topper and a
crisp Napoleon of layered puff pastry and pastry cream.
Cafe La Strada
352 Wheeler Road
THE SPACE -- Modest double storefront with a wine motif.
THE CROWD -- Casual mix of couples and large family groups.
THE BAR -- Lively, with some diners eating at the bar, where
there are four tables. Wine list of 30,000 bottles starting at
$19 and going into the thousands. Wines by the glass, $7.50.
THE BILL -- Lunch entrees, $11.95 to $28.95. Dinner entrees,
$13.95 to $28.95.
WHAT WE LIKE -- The bread basket, grilled octopus, polenta,
oysters Rockefeller, veal chop, veal saltimbocca, sea bass in
fresh tomato sauce, short ribs, chicken scarpariello, hay and
straw pasta, lemon cheesecake, chocolate mousse cake,
IF YOU GO -- Open noon to 10 p.m., Monday through Friday;
Saturday from 5 till 10 p.m. Closed Sunday. Reservations are
Reviewed Oct. 8, 2006