Newsday Review

Route 110 is abuzz again.

Here comes The Refuge Food & Spirits, heir to Four Food Studio. Futuristic Four led the improvement in dining out along the 110 corridor, rocketing into Melville in 2005. Now, this bold, whimsical redesign almost turns the site into a movie set with amusement-park flair.

The Refuge takes in much distressed and repurposed wood, nearly no chairs that match, images Latin and Italian, plus assorted props, special effects, and a pop-and-rock soundtrack that must be audible at Rome’s Cinecitt├á World.

In effect, it’s all like Sergio Leone daydreaming “Once Upon a Time in the Suburbs,” unspooling a spaghetti Western with Latin American accents. And the industrial, faded, seemingly random decor suggests what might happen when many garage sales, a little “Antiques Roadshow,” and images from “Viva, Zapata!,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and a few Hope-and-Crosby “Road” flicks get playfully mixed up in the editing room.

On the plate, the kitchen combines Italian-American standbys and Latin-American mainstays, making this a refuge from anything too complicated. There’s a something-for-everyone approach. To judge by the early crowds, a cast of thousands must like it.

The Latin fare starts with excellent, chunky guacamole with crisp corn tortillas; flaky empanadas; and a serving of tasty ropa vieja nachos, with enough shredded beef, melted cheeses and more to feed a small army of extras. They’re preferable to the blistered but bland pizzas.

Grilled Spanish octopus is good, set on a union of avocado and beans. And the moist, flavorful paella of shellfish, squid, chicken and chorizo is easy to recommend. Grilled skirt steak is generous but chewy, as usual, and not very flavorful, despite the stripes of chimichurri sauce and pesto-tinted mashed potatoes.

Better Italianate dishes include the hefty rigatoni and meatballs with a pork rag├╣ and ricotta; breaded and baked eggplant with pappardelle, tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella; and the meatball-and-mozzarella spin on the muffuletta. These courses also are available at lunch.

The Refuge is home to a juicy burger, too, either overdressed with toppings or stripped down to American cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion. Skippable midday, however, is the shrimp po’boy, undone by overcooked shellfish and unable to be saved by Sriracha aioli and company.

Two desserts represent the two cuisines: a lush tres leches cake, and a white paper bag of warm feast-style zeppoles tossed with powdered sugar.





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