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Great Chefs: The Toast of Family 

Jonathan’s Ristorante chef Tito Onofre finishes delicious butternut squash soup.

Restaurants from every corner of Huntington and across Long Island converged at Woodbury’s Crest Hollow Country Club Sunday for the 21st installment of Great Chefs of Long Island, a culinary tour de force that brought delight to foodies and Family Service League alike.

Forty-four restaurants and 10 wine and beer distributors signed up, and 11 of those restaurants call the Town of Huntington home. The $200-a-head event is one of Family Service League’s biggest and most important fundraisers to help them provide community services that meet a wide spectrum of critical needs.

VIP guests got a head start on the action as Michael Bohlsen – a co-chair of the event – and his compatriots at Huntington’s Prime: An American Kitchen and Bar offered up an array of bite-sized treats like peanut chicken lettuce wraps, toasty mini-lobster rolls, rare steak crostini, and hummus cones that burst with flavor due to a zesty tomato relish.

Those VIPs were also on hand to see Joseph Secreti, who launched the first of 20 Cactus Salons in Dix Hills back in 1978, receive the 2013 Corporate Leadership award; longtime Seaholm Wines & Liquors owner Ted Ryder be honored with the Community Leadership Award; and Family Service League Treasurer Joseph J. Shaffery earn the Vaughan Spilsbury Family Advocacy Award, named after the late Huntington Bay philanthropist and advocate.

But where do you begin when you get upstairs and face an L-shaped room with foodie delights at every turn? Well, the beginning isn’t a bad place to start when you have dozens of tables to tackle. That brought us to Halesite’s Tutto Pazzo and Joseph Petrone, who greeted us with prosciutto stuffed with goat cheese, red pepper and balsamic – it quite literally melts in your mouth. A chopped Gorgonzola salad with walnut, mango, cabbage and raspberry dressing is refreshingly light and summery.

Our next stop was Huntington’s Besito, and it wouldn’t be a trip to Besito unless you had some of their famous tableside guacamole, which seemed to have a little extra kick Sunday (not that we’re complaining!). Fresh and citrusy shrimp ceviche was another can’t-miss feature.

French cuisine was next, and the team at Bistro Cassis was winning over guests with buttery, garlickly morsels of escargot and knockin’ ‘em dead with duck confit wrapped in breast of duck, one of our favorite plates.

Meanwhile, Blake Mead and the gang at Huntington’s Osteria Da Nino were a perfect stop for a little pasta intermezzo. We enjoyed rigatoni dressed up with homemade fennel sausage, sweet peas, tomatoes and a touch of cream, a deceptively light, sweet and satisfying combination indeed.

From there it was off to Huntington’s Red for magnificently tender organic veal spezzatino atop a creamy parmesan risotto, before swinging by Jonathan’s Ristorante for an autumn-time treat – rich, warm-you-from-the-inside butternut squash soup, punched up with some added holiday cheer thanks to spiced cinnamon walnuts. Don’t forget to grab one of Chef Tito’s famous chocolate brownie cookies!

Around the horn, gregarious Tom Schaudel held down the fort at Melville’s Jewel with smooth-as-silk, savory chilled Roasted Cauliflower Flan, paired with equally attention-grabbing accompaniments of a vibrant red pepper-miso vinaigrette and scallion oil. A few paces down, it was “Bohlsen Row,” so to speak, where Smithtown’s H20 Seafood Grill, East Islip’s Beachtree Restaurant and Bar, Babylon’s Monsoon: Asian Kitchen & Lounge, Islip’s Tellers and Verace: True Italian represented the Bohlsen Restaurant Group’s deep culinary portfolio.

While there were plenty of dessert options on the table, we had one more Huntington hotspot to hit – Northport’s J. Michaels Steakhouse – so five-hour Barolo-braised short ribs did us just fine. Thick, juicy and full of roasted goodness, it was a heck of a way to go out – with a very full belly, an exercised palate and good feeling knowing that hundreds turned out to lend a helping hand in most a most unique fashion.

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