Last weekend, Dan and I had a lovely dinner with friends, Meg and Tom at one of our all time favorite Italian spots, Ornella. For those of you who read my blog regularly, you know how much I care for their homemade pasta dishes, which are renditions of regional delicacies straight from Italy. I'm always impressed when co-owner Giuseppe rattles off a plethora of new items they've added to the menu and the unique story behind each one of them. So in addition to eating like kings and queens every time we visit Ornella, we also receive an interesting history lesson on Italian culture and cuisine. What more can you ask for?
Here are some of the new and wonderful delicacies that we're still thinking about:
We ordered a couple of starters for the table, including the burrata and prosciutto special, the zuppa di pesce as well as gnocchi Gorgonzola. We haven't had the first two yet at Ornella but the gnocchi was a repeat order. I'm happy to say that it's gotten even better than the last time we ordered it. The gnocchi recipe has come a long way from torpedo-shaped pieces with little ridges, to soft, smooth, pillowy bits of heaven. They're a lot lighter now and together with the sweet-tangy cheese (they use Gorgonzola dolce instead of the sharp) they just melt in your mouth. It has to be said that Dan and Tom who normally don't even look at Gorgonzola, devoured this.
The burrata was soft as cream and quite wonderful when paired with the smoky prosciutto. I like that it came with a generous helping of arugula, which gave it nice pepperiness.
As for the zuppa di pesce...well just look at it. The presentation was really lovely, with a round piece of toasty bread, nestled on top of a round bowl, topped with a baked clam. Its contents were so fresh - luscious pieces of seafood such as mussels, clams, calamari, shrimp and more. A true mixture of seafood goodness!
Ornella's menu is quite diverse and that's why we each went for something completely different. Meg had her favorite, chestnut pasta, Tom went for the short ribs and gnocchi special, Dan got the traditional chicken parm and I tried a vegetarian risotto dish. We also indulged by receiving a fifith entree, our all time favorite Imbustata (a pasta envelope filled with mushrooms, veal, chicken, mozzarella, spinach, mascarpone cheese - simply...the works).
Out of all these dishes, I loved Tom's short ribs the most. The tender meat was slow cooked in a 70 year aged wine from Giuseppe and Ornella's private family stash. I thought this was super cool and we were given a little whiff of the pungent liquid, straight from the bottle. If you happen to be there on a night they feature this dish, I'd highly recommend it.
I liked my vegetarian plate of risotto too, which was enhanced by pieces of bitter radicchio, sweet chunks of pears and salty, sharp Gorgonzola. It was just delicious and very, very filling. I can confidently say that I didn't miss the meat at all.
Surprised in a good way, we received an entire dessert platter of Ornella's signature desserts and some new ones too. I'll only talk about the latter here and they included an unusual but really delicious eggplant cake as well as a lemon custard cake.
For adventurous and curious palates, I highly recommend the eggplant cake. It has an interesting texture and tastes wonderfully refreshing. And just so you know, it's not all eggplant--what makes it a true Italian dessert is the rich ricotta, mascarpone cheese as well as chocolate. YUM!
The lemon custard cake is perfect for the summer, sporting a sunshine yellow color. The taste is clean and refreshing and overall it's a light way to end your meal.
Service and Cost:
The service at Ornella is always second to none. As I already explained, not only do you get welcoming, personal treatment, you also get a helpful history lesson. It's really wonderful to see the passion behind each menu item and how much owners, Giuseppe and Ornella enjoy what they do.
We paid about $60 per couple for the aforementioned meal including tax and tip. The dessert and the extra entree were on the house.
3 Passionate Mmmms
Ornella Trattoria Italiana
29-17 23rd Avenue, Astoria NY 11105
N/W Train to Ditmars Blvd (last stop)