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La Spada

315 Walt Whitman Rd. Huntington Station, NY 631-549-3033

The dining room of La Spada in Huntington

(Credit: Ian J. Stark)

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Critic rating: 2

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Type: Italian Price range: $$$ (Expensive) Description:

This restaurant features pastas, salads and other Italian dishes.

Hours: Mon-Sat: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Credit cards: Accepted

La Spada gets the point.And, on an island where Italian eateries grow wild and red sauce reaches flood stage, the comfortable restaurant has politely carved its own niche.

This address opposite Walt Whitman Mall has housed eateries for decades, from Indian to American to Italian. Patti-Jon's had the longest run.

La Spada now is full of regulars. And that's no surprise. Here's a dependable place for flavorful, mostly traditional Italian cooking.

Equally important, the earnest establishment enlivens a stretch of Route 110 that restless diners found as un-fertile as Death Valley.

The La Spada style leans toward irony-free old-fashioned. A framed Mona Lisa smiles and Venetian masks look on while you're dining. Jewel-tone, striped curtains abound. A candle flickers. And Sinatra sings classics before giving way to an "O Sole Mio" instrumental.

The stuffed artichoke arrives as big as a cantaloupe, studded with olives and capers, and finished not merely with grated cheese and bread crumbs but melted mozzarella, too. The tips of the leaves are singed, but the rest is fine.

Continue the mozzarella melody with a pristine plate of the cheese with tomatoes and roasted red peppers. You can move on to assorted Parmigianas for your main course, including a husky eggplant version. The spiedino alla Romana, full of melted cheese and boosted by both anchovy sauce and prosciutto, keeps the meal going.

On a cool night, enjoy the soothing appetizer of broccoli rabe, sausages and polenta. Grilled calamari materialize smoky and tender, dusted with seasoned bread crumbs. Triangles of Parmesan cheese, mushrooms and capers enrich an arugula salad. Panzanella, the bread salad, however, becomes a challenge, with jawbreaker croutons.

La Spada stars with pastas. Some favorites: hearty penne with beans, escarole, garlic, tomatoes and sausage; a lush bucatini all'Amatriciana; and oversize tortellini with mascarpone and portobello mushrooms, in a light brown sauce.

Grilled yellowfin tuna, with a balsamic vinegar reduction, has velvety texture. The whole branzino, finished with olive oil and herbs, is bright and light. Swordfish alla Livornese ranks high among the competitors.

There's a generous rendition of chicken scarpariello, on the bone, with sausages and peppers; a tender rack of lamb spiked with garlic and rosemary; and a juicy rib-eye steak, paired with mashed potatoes, crisp onions and broccoli rabe.

A creamy tiramisu and Italian cheesecake lead the desserts. Skip the flip-top creme brulee and the flattened napoleon.

Twin miniature cannoli overdo the chocolate. But there may be a niche for them, too.

Reviewed by Peter M. Gianotti, 9/30/07.