Italians love to talk about Sunday dinner—a food festival where family and food are deeply interwoven. That is the feeling one gets at La Spezia in Sea Cliff. Owner Dario Gaite elicits those cozy memories with generous plates overflowing with homemade family-style meals prepared in the spirit and standards of every headstrong Italian grandmother to ever grace a kitchen.
Gaite grew up in Argentina thanks to his grandparents, who emigrated there from Italy in the 1940s. He came to America when he was 14 and landed his first restaurant job as a busboy at Matteo’s in Howard Beach, Queens, when he was 15.
Gaite said his personal favorites on La Spezia’s menu include baked clams, calamari arrabiata, with spicy red sauce and hot cherry peppers, and paccheri del giorno, a sublimely comforting dish with fresh pillow pasta, sautéed shallots, prosciutto, mushrooms and cream sauce. For those in the know, fresh pasta should be in an entirely different category than boxed pasta. The fresh version boasts a perfectly firm bite, and La Spezia’s paccheri (think extra large rigatoni) is a must try with earthy mushrooms and a salty kick from the prosciutto.
The menu hits all the classic Italian notes, with linguine, capellini, spaghetti, rigatoni, fettuccine and penne all available in an array of preparations including amatriciana, with pancetta, onions and red sauce; red or white clam sauce; broccoli, with garlic and oil; meaty bolognese; red or white frutti di mare, with fresh seafood, whole shrimp, calamari, mussels and clams; and more.
La Spezia serves chicken in all variations, from the pounded-thin francese to the classic parmigiana to its signature La Spezia, which features chicken on the bone roasted and cut into pieces with garlic, fresh herbs, olive oil and lemon juice served with homemade veal sausage, roasted potatoes, onions, broccoli and roasted red peppers. There are also veal offerings, seafood preparations and a steaks & chops menu that brings the succulence with prime aged porterhouse and grilled veal chop. To end the meal, Gaite said La Spezia takes its coffee seriously because, “that is the last thing the customer tastes and it is what they will remember.”
There are many memorable moments at La Spezia beyond the coffee—these moments all add up to a meal to remember and one that requires weekly visits.
La Spezia, 400 Glen Cove Ave., Sea Cliff, NY 11579; www.laspeziafamilystyle.com; 516-801-4155.