THE dishes that emanate from the kitchen at Snaps, a new restaurant in Wantagh, reflect a kaleidoscope of cuisines. The diversity on the menu is a result of Scott Bradley's experiences in a number of Long Island and Manhattan restaurants. Mr. Bradley, the chef and owner of Snaps, was executive chef at Passion Fish in Woodbury, Mirepoix in Glen Head and La Coquille in Manhasset. He also cooked at Blake's Bistro in Woodmere, Enoteca in Locust Valley, Tupelo Honey in Sea Cliff, Bruzell's in Great Neck and Barney's in Locust Valley. The places in Manhattan where he sharpened his skills would be found on anyone's ''A'' list : Daniel, Oceana, Aureole, the River Cafe, One if by Land, Two if by Sea and the Park Avenue Cafe.
The arresting menu at Snaps reads like the cover of a greatest hits album. An appetizer short rib-Gorgonzola quesadilla rubs shoulders with an Asian-inspired crisp duck salad. At entree time, diners find a Moroccan-style braised lamb shank listed alongside steak braciola and a myriad of creative fish preparations.
The backdrop for this culinary excitement is a casual strip shopping center storefront that was once home to the Focaccia Grill. The dining room has a spare, almost Asian look, with its bare wood tables, black chairs and banquettes, red curtains and red-glass light fixtures. The yellow walls hold an eclectic display of art: a Matisse print here, a picture of an Old World waiter there. The tables are decked with woven placemats, paper napkins and votive candles.
On my first visit, the kitchen was sabotaged by a wobbly dining-room staff. An antipasto tray of black olive tapenade, roasted red peppers, marinated artichoke hearts and a stack of crisp boards was immediately demolished by our hungry crew. A refill was not offered; we had to ask. Additionally, when main courses were delivered, we had no silverware. It had been taken away with the appetizer plates and not replaced. When we switched from white to red wine, fresh glasses never appeared. (We were there before the restaurant had a liquor license and had brought our own wine.)
On a return visit, though, we drew a sharp waitress who got everything right and anticipated our needs.
Even that night with superior service, it was still the food that stole the show. One or two dishes were not to our taste, but the rest did more than pass muster; they wowed us. High on the must-order list is the wok-crisped duck salad. It arrived in a Chinese takeout carton and featured layers of warm crisp meat, soba noodles, crunchy salad and a Thai vinaigrette. Chopsticks were presented at its side. We also loved a creamy lobster broth flavored with curry that delivered a pleasant kick. The short rib-Gorgonzola quesadilla was a crispy square with a sprightly watercress-apple salad on top.
The green salad that impressed consisted of long, thin strips of cucumber formed into a nest to hold baby lettuces and herbs in a balsamic vinaigrette. The Caesar, though, was standard issue. The appetizer that didn't thrill me was the lobster knuckle sandwich. That designation is often used to describe a lobster roll. The one at Snaps was not that. It was a square, two-crusted sandwich with lobster filling, all crowned with a runny, soft-cooked egg.
Entree headliners were the fall-away-tender braised lamb shank with Moroccan spices; fork-tender steak braciola escorted by a charred tomato salsa, chimichurri sauce and terrific garlic French fries; and pink and juicy slices of porcini-dusted pork served with truffled macaroni and cheese, which set a new standard for the dish. The crunchy, buttery crumbs sprinkled on top edged it into greatness.
Fish preparations were all creative; some worked, some didn't. One that sounded fussy but tasted great was the Chilean sea bass in a creamy foie gras-corn emulsion with pan-toasted gnocchi, crayfish and mushrooms. We also liked the monkfish wrapped in prosciutto and set upon a bed of stewed lentils in a citrus-green peppercorn sauce. Salmon, though, did not profit from its sweet espresso sauce.
The dessert roster revealed no weak sisters and a few surprises. The crème brûlée, apple tart and chocolate molten cake were often-seen favorites done well. The surprises came with Grandma Peggy's madeleines: Warm, lighter-than-air cookies served with bowls of orange marmalade and chocolate sauce that are sure to trigger sweet memories in the future, and an offering of do-it-yourself s'mores, which rekindled those of campfires past. Snaps itself is a memory-maker that will have diners coming back for more.
Scott and Patty Bradley turn a neighborhood restaurant into a destination at this newcomer, with sharp cooking at a place that has absolutely no edge. It's food with flair, without pretense.
The modest dining room and bar used to house Focaccia Grill. Chef Scott Bradley, whose talents once seasoned Mirepoix in Glen Head, Passionfish in Woodbury and Tupelo Honey in Sea Cliff, brings you his revised take on lively new American cooking.
This adventure occurs in an establishment that, from the parking lot, seems just another anonymous storefront. Inside, a Matisse cutout and stylized images of chefs highlight the sunny decorations.
Service invariably is amiable and warm, whether you're here on a date or with every kid on the block. Democracy reigns.
So do eclectic choices. Begin with a mellow, creamy risotto of vegetables, capped by chips made from them, spiked with pesto and a generous amount of Parmesan cheese. Or go East, with wok-crisped duck salad, threaded with soba noodles and juiced up by cilantro, mint and a zesty vinaigrette with Thai spices.
The Thai theme continues with the sensuous ginger lobster broth, enriched with coconut milk, lime and cilantro. Take a westerly turn with beef broth, floating a pair of short-rib dumplings. The soup has a diverting hint of vanilla.
A short-rib-and-Gorgonzola cheese quesadilla comes to.gether far from Mexico and you'll enjoy the ride. Steak tartare arrives seasoned with Asian spices, in a Japanese- style sauce. Very good. Likewise, the tuna tartare, accented with ginger and sesame, with a seaweed salad and wasabi-shot caviar. Salmon sashimi, with soy-mustard sauce and cucumber salad, may not be the purist's ideal, but it's tasty.
Bradley's lobster "knuckle" sandwich does get a bit overorchestrated, with a truffled bearnaise, an egg yolk and a chicken glaze. Short on har.mony. But the meat is sweet.
A drizzle of espresso sauce rings a moist slab of salmon and a crown of slivered, savory orange-braised endive, which rest on a potato puree. The coffee brings in added color contrast, but also a note of bitterness that can overwhelm the rest. The adaptation of cioppino, on linguine, boasts fennel broth, but overcooked seafood.
You're better off with the prosciutto-wrapped monkfish, a smoky-sweet union atop stewed lentils, finished with a citrusy, peppercorn sauce. The kitchen's refined riff on sole amandine in lemony brown butter sports a delicious parsnip puree.
Bradley excels with steak "brasiole," a tender and herbaceous roulade of beef, sparked with charred .tomato salsa, zesty chimichurri and garlicky French fries. But the braised lamb shank, while aromatic with Moroccan spices, curry, yogurt and grilled lemon, is on the tough side.
Porcini-dusted pork with red wine sauce, however, is .recommended. You'll also like the truffled "mac and cheese" a version definitely for adults. And try the juicy, grilled hanger steak, with blue cheese-studded mashed potatoes.
The finales include a well- made, molten-center chocolate cake and textbook vanilla crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e. But few former and present Girl Scouts will resist the make-them-yourself s'mores, with the complete kit of neatly arranged Hershey chocolate bars, graham crackers and marshmallows ready to skewer and toast, surrounding the burner.
Madeleines, the shell-shaped spongecake cookies, arrive warm in a paper cone, with a glass each of marmalade and chocolate sauce for gilding. Of course, have them with tea. You'll remember Snaps.
Reviewed by Peter M. Gianotti, 3/28/04.
The "innovative" American fare at this "well-hidden neighborhood gem" in Wantagh comes courtesy of "creative" chef-owner Scott Bradley, who's "always experimenting, with excellent results" – among them a "fabulous" roster of "gourmet" burgers; if a few snap that seating is "tight" and suggest "bring earplugs" during "prime-time" hours, loyalists confide that the everyday prix fixe is among the "best deals" around; P.S. closed Monday–Tuesday.