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.
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.
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.
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.
29-17 23rd Avenue (Ditmars neighborhood)
Photo credit: (c) Judith Klein Rich