NY Times Review

N.Y. / Region | Dining Review | Long Island

Where Nonna and Abuelita Share the Kitchen

A Review of the Refuge in Melville

When Four Food Studio opened in Melville nearly a decade ago, it became an immediate go-to for workers along busy Route 110. But last spring its owners, Jay Grossman and Ray Sidhom, closed the restaurant to update everything from its décor to its menu.

The result of their efforts, the Refuge, opened in October. Where Four was sleekly modern, the Refuge is rustic; there are even tree branches hanging from the ceiling in the bar.

The food at Four was eclectic American; the Refuge offers Latino-Italian fare. On one wall of the restaurant, a group of vintage black-and-white photographs depicts the Mexican Revolution and street scenes from turn-of-the-century Little Italy.

Other walls in this homey, countrified space consist of reclaimed barn siding, and the floors are reclaimed wood. Tables are rough-hewed and the wooden chairs are purposely mismatched.

The restaurant’s décor is a cross between a Mexican cantina and an Italian grandmother’s kitchen.

The two salads on the menu keep the grandmother theme going. There is a Mediterranean one called nonna insalata and another called abuelita (little grandma) ensalada. The abuelita salad was a pleaser with flavor hits from bacon, pico de gallo, roasted corn and shredded Cheddar, and with tortilla strips for crunch.

The Refuge offers dishes like flaming cheese. Credit Barton Silverman/The New York Times

One night we decided to share two appetizers, one from the old world and one from the new: a Margherita pizza and guacamole. The pizza was savory, but its crust was too thick for my taste. The guacamole was excellent, with an appealingly chunky texture and just the right amount of jalapeño, tomato, cilantro, onion and lime. The accompanying corn tortilla chips were thin, crisp and warm.

Another crowd pleaser was the flaming cheese: a mix of four cheeses flambéed with rum at the table. Resembling a fondue, it included warm jalapeño pretzels and tortillas for dipping. It’s one for sharing. But one appetizer you’ll want all to yourself is the very tender grilled octopus, served atop an avocado-white bean salad.

Just before the entrees arrive, a high and puffy herb bread is brought to the table. Diners are instructed to cut it carefully to let the steam escape. It then deflates and becomes a tasty flatbread.

Everyone loved the fork-tender short rib (one giant rib) entree, which was braised with Rioja wine and served atop a mixture of chorizo and hominy.

The Refuge also offers dishes like a short rib braised with Rioja wine and served atop a mixture of chorizo and hominy. Credit Barton Silverman/The New York Times

Also praised was the cedar plank salmon in a citrus-herb marinade accompanied by coconut mashed potatoes. Even better was the grilled skirt steak, tender and juicy in chimichurri, an Argentine herb sauce, and served with pesto mashed potatoes.

The only dish that disappointed was the veal Refuge: cutlets topped with eggplant and Fontina cheese, served with gnocchi. The meat was chewy; the gnocchi heavy.

Two other Italian offerings were impressive though: farfalle tossed with juicy grilled chicken, escarole, radicchio, garlic, basil and olive oil; and rigatoni in a lusty pork-tomato ragù crowned with three lightly knit meatballs and a dollop of ricotta cheese.

There are only two desserts, one representing each regional cuisine. Both are house-made and very good. The tres leches cake, a Latin American favorite, was moist and yummy. A paper bag filled with “hot from the fryer” zeppoles (similar to doughnut holes) tossed with powdered sugar did nothing to tarnish Italy’s culinary reputation.

The Refuge, whose name suggests a warm and welcoming place, provides just that for its customers.

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