Spaghetti alla carbonara at Luca in Stony Brook. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus
When Luca opened in Stony Brook Village Center in August, it faced a challenge that doesn’t arise for most new restaurants: It was replacing a beloved eatery, Pentimento, whose closing last year became a local cause célèbre.
The strategy employed by David Tunney, Rory Van Nostrand and partners appears, at first glance, was to make the space virtually unrecognizable: In place of Pentimento’s rustic, homeyness, Luca is cool and sleek. The menu, still Italian, is elegant and modern — with modern pricing: four courses (appetizer, pasta, entree, dessert) for $84.
In fact, Tunney and Nostrand (who operate Old Fields restaurants in Greenlawn, Port Jefferson, Setauket and Huntington) wanted to create the type of restaurant that they themselves craved and that was lacking in this corner of Suffolk County.
“There’s lots of family-style Italian in this area,” Van Nostrand said. “What was missing was a more elevated style of dining. We really enjoy Blackbird Kitchen in Wantagh, 2 Spring in Oyster Bay and we wanted to bring some of that here.”
For Tunney, the decision was a no-brainer. “I grew up in this town. When the people at the Village Center called me and said the space was empty, it just felt right.”
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At Luca, Tunney and Van Nostrand are joined by partners Anthony Argiriou, the general manager, and Luke DeSanctis, the executive chef. DeSanctis designed a menu that draws inspiration from regional Italian cuisine: Sicilian orange and fennel salad, here gussied up with dates and pistachios; Campanian buffalo mozzarella with basil and balsamic vinegar; Roman spaghetti carbonara; Bolognese tagliatelle. Entrees skew more New American: Swordfish chop saltimbocca with charred lemon and local greens; American Wagyu strip steak with blistered tomatoes and porcini dust; Crescent Farms breast and confit leg with agro dolce and herb salad. For dessert: tiramisu, lemon tart, marotozzi (stuffed brioche buns) and more.
Except for the gelato, all desserts — plus all the pasta and all the bread — are made on the premises.
The dining room of Luca in Stony Brook. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus
The partners decided on a fixed-price menu after much discussion. “Everyone has their idea of what Italian food is,” Van Nostrand said. “We wanted our guests to enjoy more than just a snow-shovel full of pasta.” Tunney sympathized with prospective diners who think they don’t want dessert. “I get it, sometimes I don’t want dessert. Then I’m really glad I had it.”
If you’re committed to ordering a la carte, you can do so at the bar. Luca has a deep wine list and a fleet of crack bartenders.
Luca is surely one of the best-looking Long Island restaurants to open in recent memory. The comfortable marble bar is separated from the main dining room by a regiment of bark-stripped red pine tree trunks. Walls, ceilings, floors and upholstery are all shades of white and gray; warmed up by the rich wood of the tables and chairs. The white-and-wood theme continues outside to the umbrella-ed, pebbled patio.
Luca is at 93 Main St., Stony Brook, 631-675-0435, lucaitalian.com.
Erica Marcus, a passionate but skeptical omnivore, has been reporting and opining on the Long Island food scene since 1998.
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