Authentic Italian Tapas at Spuntino Wine Bar

Chef Ryan Keough

Chef Ryan Keough

Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas at the Gallery at Westbury Plaza in Garden City, is Italian cuisine at its best. Twenty regions of Italy are represented in the exquisitely prepared tapas  by talented Johnson & Wales graduate, executive chef Ryan Keough.

The Italian word spuntino means “a snack or an informal meal.” Keough has taken a “snack” to a whole other level, and has no problem going outside the box when it comes to his creations. Take his bruschetta: I couldn’t decide what I liked more, the crudo made of diced, marinated scallops, pineapple and bacon with a tropical vinaigrette on toasted multi-grain bread, or the bruschetta with fresh strawberries, mascarpone cheese and basil, drizzled with honey. The traditional tomato and basil bruschetta, along with the gorgonzola, apple and walnut, were also outstanding. The slices are generous and are sold by the piece.

Spuntino is celebrating its two year anniversary this May, and business couldn’t be better. Keough works with the executive chef in the flagship restaurant in Clifton, New Jersey, to devise the menu, which changes four time a year.

“We represent Italian food,” says Keough. “It’s a little different than Italian-American. It’s true Italian cuisine using fresh local ingredients from Long Island, New Jersey and the tri-state area, and if we can’t find it local, we import it from Italy, such as the cheeses and hams that we use. The mozzarella we make in house. The meat, the fish—it’s sourced locally, and the pork products that we use [comes from a place that] is actually within 30 miles of the restaurant.”

Keough says he is “super into” sourcing locally. “It’s sustainable, it’s caring about the footprint that we leave, the environment, numerous things.”

This summer he plans to be at cooking at farmers markets. His idea is to go around with a basket, and pick something from each farmer and then go to his own booth and cook it. People can then try the food which is made with the items the farmers are selling. “It will be my way of giving back to the community,” Keough says.

The restaurant itself is Manhattan chic meets industrial décor. The large dining room features wall-to-wall built-in wine racks, high ceilings, tall French doors, low lighting and a beautiful open kitchen tiled with subway tiles. A wonderful archway reminiscent of a train station separates the kitchen from the dining room. Patrons love the open kitchen and often come up to Keough and thank him for a wonderful meal. Keough, in turn, frequently comes out and talks to guests about his food and their dining experience.

On a Friday or Saturday night, Keough offers what he calls “chef’s table” where four people can sit at a private table; Keough prepares the meal tableside. Guests can reserve the table ahead of time.

“We’ve been doing this since the beginning,” said Keough. “I’m very hands-on in the dining room. I go to tables, I talk to people. I appreciate the support from everyone who comes in here. The meals that they enjoy, the time that they spend – this is really an experience. A lot of people just go to dinner, but some people do go for that experience.”

And an experience it was. Keough graced my own table not only with his presence, but with a delectable assortment of tapas. Tapas, or small plates, are really trending now because people can share several menu items and have a different meal every time they come into the restaurant.

After the bruschetta, I was served a salad featuring fresh, local burrata, heirloom tomatoes, pesto and micro greens with a tomato honey vinaigrette. Following that, was a panzanella tuna crudo featuring tomato, cucumber, cranberries and micro greens in a citrus vinaigrette. Both dishes were outstanding. The grilled tuna, which came next, was served rare with a haricot vert, tomato, carrot, red onion and asparagus salad topped with olive tapenade. The flavors in this dish really soared. In the area of meat, Chef Keough served a perfectly cooked herb-marinated lamb chop, and a beautifully tender pork rib with a balsamic sauce. These dishes were perfectly paired with a small bowl of sautéed Brussel sprouts with Parmigiano Reggiano. Just when I thought I couldn’t eat another thing, the chef brought out a melt-in-your-mouth, house-made ricotta gnocchi tossed with braised wild boar ragu.  Keough will soon be making all of the pastas in house, from spaghetti to pappardelle, to lasagna and specialty pastas.

Spuntino offers more than 200 wines by the bottle and 53 wines by the glass. I stuck with red wines for the evening, and enjoyed a tasting of an Elouan pinot noir from Oregon, a Clendenden Family Vineyards ‘The Pip’ pinot noir from California, and a wonderful Twenty Rows cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley. Spuntino’s extensive wine list features wines from France, Spain, Italy, the United States, South Africa, Argentina and Germany, to name a few. Right now they are also featuring two Long Island wines, a rosé from Wolffer Estate and pinot blanc from Lieb Cellars.

The end of April marked the last day of their Taste of Tuscany menu, which was created by Spuntino for the James Beard House Foundation. The menu was re-created for the restaurant for two weeks, and included five Tuscan dishes paired with Italian wine.

For May, they are excited to have back their ever-popular truffle festival which runs from May 8 – 22. The menu consists of five dishes: filet mignon tartare; mushroom polenta and shaved black truffle; fettuccine with pecorino tartufo, fresh cracked pepper, garlic and shaved black truffle; local black bass with porcini mushrooms and black truffle, and for dessert a dark chocolate budino with a truffle whipped cream. The tasting menu is $45. If you would like it paired with wine the cost is $65. For each of the menu items, fresh black truffles imported from Italy are shaved tableside by either the chef or sous chef. The truffle festival is offered twice a year in the spring and in the winter.

Sunday brunch is also featured at Spuntino and it’s not just limited to Sundays. Brunch is served on Saturdays as well.

Keough truly loves being a chef and making customers happy. While I nibbled on miniature zeppole with three dipping sauces and a fabulous apple tart, Keough spoke about his culinary journey.

“When I got out of culinary school, I was partnered in three restaurants. I was young and worked an average of 117 hours a week,” he said. “My passion was always food. This is who I am. My schedule now—I’m freed up to spend a lot more time with my daughter. She’s two and a half. I do all this for her. I really do. I wake up every day saying this is the best day of my life, because it is. I’m young, I’m healthy. I have a family and I have an amazing restaurant to run every day. It’s not coming to work. I come to have fun. I enjoy what I do. This is who I am. There is no other way to say it.”

Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas is open seven days a week. Monday – Thursday 11:30 a.m. – midnight. Friday – Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 1 a.m. and Sunday 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.