February 16, 1997
Quintessential Island Italian Restaurant
- by Richard J. Scholem
Taorimina, in Commack, is the quintessential Long
Island Italian restaurant. Situated behind a pizza shop, it is a
warm, gracious place that serves gargantuan portions of hearty,
uncomplicated Italian soul food at manageable prices.
Youngsters eat pizza while their parents dig into
more serious stuff at this upbeat, often crowded and frenetic spot
at this rollicking storefront at 34 Veterans Highway in the Commack
Plaza-Stern's Center (499-6900).
Its owner is also a partner at the long-estabished
and justifiably well-regarded Il Porto Bello, Port Jefferson, and
the two are similar in configuration, menu and snappy service.
Speaking of service, our waitress, Kathy (her name
was on the check) gets my vote for server of the year, Drop a fork
and she is there with another. Finish a glass of bottomless iced
tea, and there she stands with a picture full, take home leftover
pasta and she added extra sauce to it. It was Kathy who gave us
the best advice of the night, "Two appetizers and two entree
will feed four here." Right again.
Appetizers seemed overpriced at $4.50 to $7.50 in
relationship to entrees, which cost as little as $5.95, until you
see the appetizers. Most fill large oval dinner plates and are of
main-course dimensions. Many starters, combined with the warm loaves
of bread here, provide meal-size quantity. Typical is a heaping
plate of eggplant ($5.95) enveloped by a vibrant, fresh basilpulpy
tomato sauce. An enormous special of savory sauteed cannellini beans
and escarole ($5.95), alive with garlic, was its equal. A somewhat
smaller starter, calamari salad ($7.50), was a pristine tangle of
celery, olives, garlic chunks and tender calamari rings. But a standard-sized
version of tasteless mozzarella and barely pink tomatoes ($6.95)
and soggy fried zucchini ($4.50), accompanied by a bland dipping
sauce, were letdowns.
If Taormina has a weakness, it is an occasional timidity
in its use of salt, pepper and spices. Two under-seasoned entrees
that delivered only faint flavor, rigatoni and broccoli ($8.95)
and the eggplant parmigiana ($11.50), needed a kitchen to be bold
and cut loose. Chicken alla Taormina ($15.95) had no such problems.
Its two jumbo chicken breasts stuffed with prosciutto, cheese and
peppers, swimming in light brown sauce, had plenty of pep, but the
menu did not indicate that the chicken was breaded and fried. Better
yet are the shells alla festivale ($10.95), a sturdy dish of al
dente pasta, peas, onions, ricotta and fresh tomatoes with husky
meat sauce. The price of non-pasta entrees also includes an above-average