Young Titans of industry sat around the small bar last Friday afternoon in their casual kakis and golf shirts drinking Limon cello martinis. Ten plus tables were full post-lunch. The décor was crisp and tasteful – dark wood enhanced by golden walls make for a cozy atmosphere.
Before I could peak at the menu, a bowl of good crusty peasant bread arrived with herb-infused oil. The herbs settled to the bottom of the cruet but permeated the olive oil nonetheless. Some patrons were dining al fresco in a lovely private patio behind the restaurant.
The Lobster Ravioli ($16) was on the special menu and special it was. Six large home-made disks arrived. Slightly al dente – they were dressed in a cream-based sauce with diced pancetta (akin to Italian bacon) and fresh peas. The ravioli was filled with fresh succulent lobster meat. The textures and flavors came together for amazing performance - worth every cent!
Baked Clams ($10) were some of the best, if not the best I've eaten. A tough quest – they remained crispy atop and incredibly moist in the middle. They sat in a lemony puddle of herbed speckled wine sauce that was thickened – perhaps by egg yolks. I don't use the word perfection often – but these tender morsels came quite close. Use that Tuscan style bread to mop up that sauce and skip on squeezing the fresh lemon atop the clams, they do not need it.
Veal Francese ($17) was fantabulous. Thin medallions of veal were cooked to perfection - they cut like butter (yes I massacre the English language and pronounce it butta). Francese, although found on most Italian menus, is not really an Italian recipe – it is rumored to have started at an Italian social club in Little Italy. Instead of egging and flouring the veal (or chicken), you flour and egg it. The secret is lots of fresh grated cheese in the egg and butter and fresh parsley to finish the dish (makes a nice little sauce). The veal was served with herb encrusted roasted potatoes and fresh steamed vegetables.
Nona's Rigatoni ($13) has nice, big diagonally sliced sweet Italian sausage and small tender meatballs emanating from ground pork, veal and beef and swimming in a homemade ragu. Some Italian Americans call sauce – well sauce – some call it gravy and some ragu. What's the difference? A ragu always has meat it in; a Bolognese sauce is a ragu. It's generally, but not always, about where you grew up than what part of Italy your parents or grandparents are from. However, although we all grew up within blocks of each other in Queens, my friend Joey Ferraro calls it gravy, my friend Joey Manetta (whose parents are from Italy) calls its sauce. At Mamma Rossi's (my humble kitchen in Smithtown), it's sauce.
Calagero's chef likes seafood; it's floating all over the menu but bold beef dishes appeared on the both the regular and special menu. One dish in my near future will undoubtedly be the Grilled Rib Eye in a Chianti Portobello Mushroom Sauce. There are lite components to the large menu. Today it's all about the cool salad, the multi-flavored multi-textured salad and Calagero's delivers.
I was disappointed by the relaxed, if not slow service. However, some of it was attributed to the food being freshly prepared. A counterculture revolt, slow food as opposed to fast food is presently all the rage (freshly cooked). Old School cooking has become New School chic.
The dessert menu was standard Italian – Tartuffe, Cannoli, Tiramisu, Gelato, Spumoni and in addition, a nice Crème Brule or a New York Style cheesecake. The cheesecake was nice and creamy. It was indeed New York style as no ricotta was involved. Topped with a freshly pureed strawberry sauce, it was on the money. Calagero's is highly recommended – freshly cooked food from the finest ingredients creates a memorable meal that will bring you back.