Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ornella - Respecting Food from Generation to Generation

Ornella Trattoria Italiana
29-17 23rd Avenue, Astoria NY 11105
N/W Train to Ditmars Blvd (last stop)

Last week, Meg and I had the great pleasure of attending a tasting at the new Ornella Italian restaurant.  Located on 23rd Avenue near 30th Street, Ornella recently took the place of the Brasilian barbecue joint, Samba Grill.  Although Samba wasn't the right place for this location, I believe that Ornella will have better fortune.

Ornella doesn't try to pretend to be something that it's not, an uber modern restaurant.  Instead, it does a good job at painting an image of comfort, family and tradition.  Its deeply seated Italian roots are proudly on display - as in literally depicted on the walls, which showcase a hand-painted mural with the names of the owner's four sons.

The dining room is narrow but cozy and can accommodate small intimate parties, perfect for a romantic dinner or larger parties, great for families.  The vibe is mellow and relaxed, allowing you to carry an easy conversation without having to raise your voice. 

I was fully enticed by Ornella's menu, which consists of a generous variety of fresh pasta, meat and seafood.  We ordered a plethora of dishes that were good for sampling, and even tried some specialties not on the regular menu.

Appetizers - Starting with a very special chestnut pasta dish that's made from scratch--incorporating chestnut flour--I was duly impressed.  The dough was thick and hearty and not unlike gnocchi, except that it wasn't round but stringy.  I loved the simple garlic and olive oil sauce that was the dressing, and the beautiful roasted tomatoes and wilted arugula added freshness and bite.  Note - this specialty isn't on the regular menu, so if you'd like to try it, please ask for it and reference my post.

Other appies we tried included the gamberi e fagioli, consisting of broiled shrimp with buttery cannellini beans.  I'm a big fan of these beans because they're filling and pair well with earthy spices such as fresh rosemary.  I'd recommend getting this dish in cold, winter months because it's incredibly comforting.

My dining companions ordered equally impressive things including the coveted prosciutto di parma plate, which besides looking absolutely gorgeous was just as delicious.  The prosciutto was of great quality and went so nicely with the sweet Bartlett pears and gorgonzola cheese that were also on the plate.  Yet another pleasing dish was the caprese salad, served with the milkiest bufalo mozzarella cheese--it was so decadent that it practically melted on the tongue.

Entrees - The feast continued with many stand-out entrees including my choice, the Imbustata.  I've never heard of this dish before and it was quite hefty, incorporating everything but the kitchen sink - a pasta "envelope" stuffed with roasted veal, chicken, wild mushrooms (yum!), homemade mozzarella, spinach, mascarpone cheese and fresh tomato sauce.  Mama mia it was big, but the flavors worked so well together, reminding me of lasagna on speed.  The luxurious creamy sauce on top was the best part, and it tied the dish together beautifully.

A close second favorite entree was the gnocchi alla gorgonzola.  If you're a lover of this fine, sharp cheese I strongly suggest you try it.  The texture of the gnocchi was divine--soft and fluffy--while the cheese was slightly soupy, a tad sweet with a sharp bite at the end.  It was spectacular and very rich.  Meg found it impossible to finish her large portion and took half of it home.  Right on!

I also tried the sauteed swordfish entree, which was embellished with olives, capers, onions and cherry tomato sauce.  It was a nice choice if you're trying to go with something light.

Dessert - Unfortunately, I can't say we had room for this but when the beautiful platter of homemade desserts came out, we didn't have the strength to refuse.  First we tried a whimsical dessert that was an inside joke - it looked like fried eggs with two bright yolks swimming in a white soupy broth.  But eggs it certainly wasn't - the two "yolks" were decandent peaches floating in a sea of aromatic vanilla bean gelato.  The dish was refreshing and a great way to cleanse the palate.  And just like the chestnut appetizer I described above, it's not on the menu so you'll have to ask for it specifically.

The other desserts we had are pictured above and included two slices of traditional Italian cheesecake, a chocolate mousse cake and tiramisu.  All desserts are made by Ornella (yes the restaurant is named after her!) and they come from deeply cherished family recipes.  The cheesecake was my favorite, as it wasn't heavy and used a hint of orange zest that made your tastebuds sing.  The tiramisu was a close second with a silky smooth mascarpone filling and pungent hints of good espresso powder! Mmmm....

Service and Cost:
Ornella's staff couldn't be lovelier.  We were joined for dinner by Ornella herself and her charming husband Giussepe, who had many interesting stories to tell.  From educating us about drying zucchini and eggplant to canning tomatoes, we were wholeheartedly intrigued and entretained.  One things's for sure, both Ornella and Giussepe have an incredible passion for what they do and their enthusiasm comes from the heart.  Everything about the service--and the food--at Ornella reflected that, and we felt at home.

Costs are moderate and provide great value, given the generous portions and the use of good quality ingredients.

Appetizers: $8 - $10
Pasta: $14-$19
Fish: $21-$23
Meat: $18-$25
Dessert: $5-$8

3 loud Mmmms


  1. Hi, love your blog! FYI, there is no 30th St north of Astoria Blvd. This place would be on 23rd Ave between 29th and 31st St. Typical wonky Astoria roads. Thanks! :)

  2. Hey ki.p, I know what you mean - it's kind of mushed in there. I said 30th because that is where I think it would be but you are right, there is no 30th :)

  3. Mmmmm sounds delicious!! My lil Italian tummy cannot wait to move back east so we can partake of this place!!

  4. OMG I can't wait either - this place rocks!

  5. LOVED IT....I finally had a chance to dine there last night...Absolutely loved the Gnocchi and cheesecake....Great hosts and great food ...what else can you ask for...and for a change...we were not rushed..which is typical in most restaurants...thanks for the recommendation...the place does rock!!

  6. Foodista, had dinner with a friend here last night. It was perhaps the worst meal I have eaten in the 5+ years I have lived in Astoria. My friend's pasta came out literally raw (no it was not al dente, it was raw!). My risotto was made with regular rice. No starch, no creaminess. Just plain old rice. Plain old bad! Thank god for Vesta! Alan

  7. What? Are you serious? I'm shocked to hear that. My meal there was amazing and other friends have told me the same. Sorry you had a bad experience.



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