Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Ornella - New Italian Restaurant in Astoria

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a tasting at the new Italian restaurant Ornella, at Judith's invitation.  We were fortunate enough to enjoy our meal with the owners, Ornella Viterale (for which the restaurant is named) and her husband Giussepe, as well as a family friend.  I had been very curious about the restaurant, which previously housed the Brazilian restaurant Samba Grill (which I never got to try, unfortunately).  I love Italian food, so I was pretty excited about checking it out.

Our hosts and guests were lovely, which provided a great entry to an excellent meal.  As we chatted together, there was a plate of bruschetta in front of us.  Not being able to resist tomatoes and bread, I went for a piece early on, and was impressed by how flavorful the tomatoes were for this time of year.  The bread, which is house-made, was also good and substantial, and the two went really well together.

We were asked, "Do you like nuts?"  Well, I told them, "I love nuts!" (I really do).  They were happy to hear this and presented us each with a plate of homemade noodles made with chestnut flour, and served with roasted cherry tomatoes, arugula, and shrimp.  Such a delicious combination!  The noodles were thick and resembled the texture of dumplings.  They were beautifully colored, and the combination with the vegetables and shrimp was mighty tasty.  Apparently, this dish of chestnut noodles is common in their region.  I'd never had anything like it, so it was a real treat for me.

I also had a caprese salad, one of my favorite things to get at Italian restaurants.  Their version was a little bit different, in that it was served with buffalo mozzarella and also roasted red pepper along with the tomatoes.  I loved it, and especially adored the quality of the mozzarella.  It was soft and supple, almost resembling burrata, one of my favorite fresh milk cheeses.  The addition of the pepper to the dish made it more interesting than your average caprese salad.  I'd get it again in a heartbeat.

I am also a gnocchi nut.  I love the stuff!  So, when I saw their gnocchi dish, I couldn't resist.  The little potato dumplings were in a cream and gorgonzola dolce sauce, so rich and creamy, but not overly heavy, as the gnocchi were nice and light - no lead weight in my stomach that night.  It was sweet, salty, and savory all at the same time. Fantastic.

I did get a chance to taste some of my fellow diners' dishes.  I was especially fond of Ornella's swordfish, partnered with olives, capers, onions and tomato sauce. Its texture was flaky and light but substantial, a far cry from the tough swordfish I had years ago at BeniHana.  I also had a bite of a very interesting dish that Judith ordered, called Imbustata, which was basically a large "envelope" of pasta filled with roasted meats and mushrooms.  So savory, rich, and deeply flavored.  I might have to try that next time.

For dessert, they brought out what looked like fried eggs, sunny-side up... in actuality, it was two halves of a poached peach resting in a pool of vanilla gelato.  Two of my favorite tastes, I ate it up gladly.  After that, they brought out a plate of cake slices - tiramisu, chocolate mousse, and Italian-style cheesecake.  Although I'm a total chocoholic, and a devout fan of tiramisu, the cheesecake stole my heart.  It was light, creamy, and perfect.  Don't get me wrong, the other two cakes were excellent as well, but there was something really special about that cheesecake.  Later, I learned that Ornella baked the tiramisu and cheesecake herself.  I  highly recommend keeping room for dessert - you won't regret it!

The space itself is narrow but doesn't feel cramped, and certainly gives the impression of more space than I got when peering into Samba Grill.  The walls are painted to resemble stone walls, nice and light, with street signs named after Ornella and Giuseppe's children.  I found myself feeling relaxed and comfortable there.

Prices are on the moderate side - $8-10 for appetizers, $15-19 for pastas, fish and meats from $18-25, desserts from $5-8. See the Foodista for more menu details.  Please see her review here.

Ornella Trattoria
29-17 23rd Avenue (Ditmars neighborhood)

Photo credit:  (c) Judith Klein Rich

1 comment:

Alternative Means said...

I just had a meal here with a group of 7, and we couldn't have asked for a better dining experience. Giuseppe Viterale, Ornelia's husband, was there to accomodate all of our needs along with the all too friendly waiters. I would reccommend this restaurant to anyone looking for a new Italian restaurant that is moderately priced and on the top of their game.