Like many chefs, Peter Van der Mije learned to cook from his grandmother, or “nonna.” But he’s one of the few to repay the favor by naming his first restaurant after her.
After his culinary aspirations drew him from Colorado to New York, Van der Mije followed his dream to downtown Oyster Bay, where he opened Osteria Leana, a chic casual Italian spot serving sophisticated, modern cuisine made with only local — and therefore the freshest, most flavorful — ingredients.
“What grows together goes together,” he says, quoting Phil Howard, one of the internationally acclaimed chefs that trained him. As opposed to serving northern or southern Italian-style cuisine, he says, “I think of it as Oyster Bay Italian.”
The Culinary Institute of America graduate’s commitment to that approach comes across in everything about Osteria Leana, one of only two Certified Green Restaurants on Long Island. That strict certification requires using sustainably sourced food, mitigating environmental impact and other factors.
“We’re aware of our impact on the community,” he says.
The chef-owner gets his shellfishnfrom local baymen plying the waters just beyond commercial strip, while he’s careful to use water efficiently and avoid harmful chemicals. He regularly visits local farms to acquire produce in person, epitomizing farm-to-table ideals.
“I think the trend is not as accurate as people who are really farm-to-table,” he says of the term, which can sometimes be used loosely, like the phrase all natural. “When you go there every day, it’s rewarding to know somebody cares as much about what you’re serving…as you do.”
And it’s not just the food menu. North Fork vineyards grace the pages of his wine list, he stocks the bar with New York-made spirits and there’s no shortage of LI-brewed beers on tap. Of course, that includes suds from Oyster Bay Brewing Co., which was the prior tenant in the location Osteria Leana took over in May 2016 after the brewer outgrew the space.
But the intimate ambiance of his 42-seat locale with crisp service isn’t only romantic. The open kitchen shows Van der Mije’s commitment to culinary transparency. And besides being an homage to Grandma Leana, the name also captures the essence of Van der Mije’s style.
An osteria is a type of tavern found in Italy that serves simple food and wine. They’re usually off the beaten path. Much like Osteria Leana’s hidden gem location just off the main drag.
Dishes that let the seasonally available ingredients shine at the moment include the seared black bass with marinated zucchini and squash in a parsley veloute ($31), the mushroom salad with julienned endive and shaved parmesean in a truffle dressing ($13) or the Fall Strozzapreti ($15/$20) with oregano pesto, mushrooms, grilled radicchio, garlic pumpkin seeds and parmigiano.
That’s in addition to hosting wine specials on Mondays and Wednesdays, charitable events and a regular five-course pasta-tasting dinner event that’s billed as the only one of its kind on the Island.
Surely, he’s made Grandma Leana proud.
Osteria Leana is located at 76 South St. in Oyster Bay. They can be reached at 516-584-6995 or osterialeana.com