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Review: Casa Rustica Defines Rustic Italian

For 25 years diners have come from around the Island for Gambino family food.

Casa Rustica is known for its upscale Italian cuisine, but presently accommodates Smithtown diners during these tough economic times with a price-fixed menu. For $30, diners choose from a special menu that includes a choice of an appetizer, a main course and a dessert with coffee or tea.

Diners are greeted with a small basket of warm Semolina peasant bread as they sit down at this 25-year old Main Street eatery. Several slices were speckled with caraway, sesame and sunflower seeds. United with olive oil, this combination made for a nice diversity of texture and flavors.    

A small plate of toasted French bread (crustini) also arrived. Two very crisp slices were slathered with a thin layer of black olive tapenade and the other two with bruschetta composed of sweet, finely diced summer tomatoes sprinkled with fresh basil. 

The price-fix appetizer was a dish of huge mussels, dressed with a hint of lemon, white wine, slivers of fresh garlic and fragments of fresh parsley.  They were the anti-mussel mussel, zero brininess, just plump meat swimming in a simple golden broth. After the mussels were gone, the delectable excess broth was perfect dipping sauce for the peasant bread.

The Carpaccio appetizer ($14), a classic Italian dish of raw pounded meat or fish, included paper thin slices of raw beef plated with fresh baby spinach and ample amounts of shaved Parmesan Reggiano cheese with a generous douse of olive oil.  The trio was not filling but absolutely decadent.

The Lasagna with Bolognese Sauce entree, one of the daily specials, was offered both as an entree ($19) or an appetizer ($10). 

The homemade lasagna pasta on this 4-inch wedge was wafer thin and tender. The Bolognese sauce of veal, beef and pork was made with red wine, garlic and simmered in fresh tomatoes. The layers of fresh mozzarella had a nice  milky texture that pulled away beautifully when warm.  Pasta aficionados must not miss this dish.

The plate of Chicken Francaise arrived next, with two very large cutlets pounded to a medium thickness, dipped in flour and then egg before being pan-fried in butter.  The secret to this dish is adding fresh cracked pepper and grated cheese to the egg mixture and Casa Rustica nailed it. The chicken was tender with a lemony hue, delicate and flavorful.  The potatoes on the plate were buttery and creamy and they were coated and baked, which made them crispy on the outside.  They shared the plate with fresh green beans in a hint of red pepper puree.

Sides dishes are $5- $6 and include an array of vegetables in garlic and oil, like spinach and broccoli rabe. They also have classic Italian escarole with white beans and tomatoes for $5.

The chocolate mousse cake was velvety with two inches of milk chocolate encased in chocolate crumbs and drizzled with strawberry sauce.  The crème brulee was classic vanilla custard, not overly sugared with most of the sweetness coming from the torched sugar on top.  It was served with a perfectly ripe red strawberry, was drizzled with strawberry sauce and was served with a small dollop of whipped cream.  

Known as one of Smithtown's culinary jewels, diners have been coming from around Long Island for 25 years to taste this New Rustic Italian cuisine made by the Gambino family.

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