Tucked away in the quiet town of Oyster Bay is a fabulous new restaurant called Osteria Leana, located at 76 South Street, the former site of the Oyster Bay Brewery. The brewery moved to a larger site around the corner, and soon thereafter major renovations began for the new restaurant, which officially opened Memorial Day weekend.
Having visited and written about the brewery when it was housed there, I was absolutely shocked at the beautiful transformation that took place in only five months. Walls were knocked down to make a larger, open floor plan with a wonderful open kitchen.
It is owned by executive chef Peter Van Der Mije, who has worked alongside heavy hitter chefs like Marcus Samuelsson, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Dan Kluger. Peter, along with his wife Heather, dreamed of opening up their own restaurant, and dedicating it to Peter’s grandmother, Ileana (shortened to Leana) who was always in her kitchen cooking fresh Italian cuisine, and who motivated Peter to cook at a young age. Heather and Peter wanted to make a restaurant that would have made Peter’s grandmother proud. Heather, who is the Director of Marketing and Social Media, decided to enlist her dad, a successful architect, to design the space. Work began in January.
“The design for Osteria Leana was driven by an appreciation for clean lines and a desire to showcase the magic made in the kitchen,” said Heather Van Der Mije. “A neutral palette allows the food to take center stage, while rich cherry millwork adds depth, and blue chairs and benches nod to the coastal theme.”
The food most definitely takes center stage at this restaurant. Because there is a select number of items on the menu, Chef Peter can really hone in on perfecting each dish in both taste and presentation. Each dish is innovative, fresh and simply delicious.
“Simple. Local. Seasonal. That’s really our tag line,” said Peter Van Der Mije. “With my background and experience, I like to make clean, fresh, food. Anything we put inside or on the dish, everything should have a purpose; be bright and flavorful. That’s what we try to do.”
Chef Peter Van Der Mije graduated from the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park in 2003, and then went on to receive a master’s degree in Hospitality and Restaurant Management from Cornell University in 2010. Upon completion of his classes, Peter was fortunate to do an externship at The Square restaurant in the Mayfair district of London under the direction of Chef Phil Howard.
“Chef Howard really taught me that there is a harmony of flavors, and that what grows together goes together, and not to mess that up. So that’s really where I got my direction, and where I really got my start.”
From there, Peter came back to the States, and began working with Marcus Samuelsson at Aquavit where he learned the importance of presentation, and how to showcase ingredients. He then went on to work with Jean-Georges at The Nougatine in Columbus Circle, and then the Core Club with Dan Kluger. It was at these restaurants that Peter learned about texture and contrast and bright flavors.
“When you work at great restaurants you work with great people,” said Peter. “And those people become great chefs along the way. That is really the benefit of working at a great restaurant. That’s something I’m hoping to do here – that I can tutor the next great chef and turn Long Island into the next great restaurant scene. That is really one of our missions.”
Chef Peter is accompanied in the kitchen by Chef De Cuisine, Angela Dimino, who graduated top of her class from the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, now ICC. This classically French trained chef prides her food as “refined, home-style, comfort cuisine inspired by old world Mediterranean flavor.”
The first course Chef Peter served to me was a cucumber gazpacho with spicy tomato jam and mascarpone toast. This dish was beautiful to look at and was delicate and light. It was presented to me in a small white crock, and was topped with microgreens. Smooth and delicious, this soup was inspired by Marcus Samuelsson. It paired perfectly with a delightful sparkling 2015 red wine called Fiorino, Lambrusco Grasparossa Becca Rosso, from Italy. I had never had a sparkling red wine before, and I was presently surprised how much I liked it. A perfect, refreshing summer wine.
Next up was a creamy burrata served with grilled crostini and a fabulous pomegranate balsamic vinegar. This was followed by a very unique calamari dish called “calamari alla griglia,” which was made with a spicy olive potato salad and red peppers. When I first saw it on the menu, I wasn’t sure I’d like the combination. Like the sparkling red wine, it was surprisingly delicious. The calamari was grilled in a little bit of squid ink, and the potatoes gave the dish an interesting texture, as well as added more substance. The Kalamata olives were minced into a paste and added terrific flavor. According to Chef Peter, the calamari dish is signature Jean-Georges – a lot of texture, contrasts and flavor. A beautiful 2015 AzAgrSturm, Collio Sauvignon Blanc from Italy went perfectly with both the burrata and the calamari.
I fell in love with the tomato watermelon panzanella which featured heirloom tomatoes, watermelon and garlic bread in a shallot dressing with fresh basil. This dish was topped with an amazing smoked goat cheese from Westfield Farm in Massachusetts, which really brought all the flavors together. This particular dish recently won a Golden Gallery award from the Mill Neck Family “Sail the Sound for Deafness” fundraiser.
Three homemade pasta dishes were brought out next, and I can’t say enough about all of them. A beet gnocchi finished with a spring garlic foam and basil, was light and delicious. The “summer chitarra” pasta with lobster really won me over. In fact, I thought about this dish so much, that I came back to the restaurant two weeks later to have it again. Chunks of lobster served over perfectly made fettucine with a corn basil pesto, trumpets, grilled scallions, Parmigiano and then finished with truffle oil. If you like lobster, this is a must-have dish. The “pici pasta” featuring an oxtail short rib ragu, was hearty and rich. I hope they bring this one back in the winter. A truly warm and satisfying dish.
Just when I thought I couldn’t fit in any more food, Peter insisted I try the restaurant’s signature dish, organic freebird roasted chicken. Frenched at the bone, and served with glazed carrots and chicken jus, this chicken was excellent and beyond juicy and tender. Definitely a winner there. For meat lovers, the strip steak with mushroom demi and roasted garlic corn was wonderful, and for fish lovers, the seared Atlantic Cod served with “minestrone” in a Parmigiano broth was out of this world. A Napa Valley California Matthiasson Chardonnay from Linda Vista Vineyards paired well with the chicken and fish, and a delicate but flavorful Cascina La Ghersa Piage Barbera D’Asti from Italy was delicious with the oxtail ragu and steak.
For dessert, the flourless chocolate cake made from rich Italian chocolate served with hazelnut gelato over a shaved almond cookie crunch is worth ordering, as is the more delicate panna cotta with berry wine. On my second trip back I had hickory smoked goat cheese paired with hot honey and toast. After having tasted this smoked cheese in the tomato watermelon panzanella, I knew I had to try this dessert cheese course.
The service at Osteria Leana is as good as the food, with Juan Carlos Ortiz as service director. He is a master at front of the house, and has worked for Michelin rated Picholine, Daniel, and for Jean-Georges.
Osteria Leana does its best to source food locally. Some businesses they support are Southdown Coffee in Huntington, St. Rocco’s Bakery in Glen Cove and Rottkamp Brothers Farm in Glen Head, and they also carry a lot of North Fork wines and local craft beer.
In Italy, an osteria is a place serving wine and simple food. Osteria Leana in Oyster Bay is so much more. The friendly atmosphere brings you the feeling of home. Both Heather and Peter take an active role to get to know their customers, and you are instantly treated like an old friend. For Peter, having an open kitchen really helps him connect with his customers.
“The open kitchen is our main focal point,” states Peter. “It’s where our guest can connect with you. You’re not just bringing food out from behind swinging doors. You get to see your customers and hear or see their reactions to your food.”
Osteria Leana is open daily from 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Brunch is served both Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.