The Never-Ending Italian Feast, Made by Grandma

Posted on July 16, 2010. Filed under: Bike Journeys in Queens, Italian, Off the beaten path, Wine Tasting |

This week I cycled into the other 718- Staten Island. My dining companion and I hopped on our bikes and pedaled down to Battery Park to catch the free ferry. Our destination- Enoteca Maria, a small Italian restaurant a few blocks from the ferry terminal. It’s difficult to pin-down the menu at this place because there is a different chef every night. While other restaurants tout celebrity cooks, Enoteca Maria introduces a different guest chef every night- an Italian Grandma, who will cook for you from Wednesday through Sunday. Each Granny creates a unique menu for that particular evening, preparing dishes from her home town in Italy (step aside marshmallow yams, and get ready for some serious meatballs!)  For an unparalleled Italian feast, sit back, relax and let Grandma do the cooking.  The guest chef this evening was Maria from Palermo, Sicily cooking her special spuntino menu. We decided to try several of the small plates, each one was as unbelievably delicious as the next. Here is what we ate from Grandma’s special menu:

Fiore de Zucchina: zucchini flowers stuffed with rice, blueberries and ricotta; Caponatina Siciliana: eggplant salad with capers, olives and celery. Other items on our plates included meatballs in marinara, lemon lamb chops, and celery seafood salad. We washed it all down with a home made fruit infused red wine and ended the evening with a torta di nutella, a nutella version of tiramisu. This was by far one of the best meals I have ever eaten in my life (sorry Grandma). Although the ever changing cast of Grannies will make each experience special, there is a standard menu to choose from as well. Upon finishing our meal, we felt compelled to give thanks to Grandma Maria for all her hard work. We introduced ourselves and shook her hand as she quickly rattled off some things in Italian (most of which we did not understand) and handed each of us a slice of her special Palermo pizza. We stuffed the pizza into our already full bellies. It wouldn’t be a true Italian feast if we didn’t eat more than humanly possible. And we did.

Check out their website for the daily grandma, regional menu and wine specials.

Enoteca Maria 27 Hyatt Street, Staten Island, New York 10301 (718) 447-2777 Open Wed-Sun 3pm onward…

seafood salad

zuchinni flower stuffed with ricotta and blueberries with a side a fruit infused red wine

rosemary lemon lamb chops

nutella tart

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San Antonio Abate Festival in Astoria

Posted on June 23, 2010. Filed under: Astoria, Astoria Street Fairs, Italian | Tags: , |

This weekend the “Jersey Shore” invades Astoria. Don’t miss the famous San Antonio Abate street fair, the Italian sausage festival and parade occur every year around this time on Ditmars Boulevard. Play some games, say some prayers, drink some beers and eat spicy Italian sausage. Festivities begin Thursday June 24 and continue through Sunday June 27 with the parade.

say your prayers

play some games

eat some sausage and peppers

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Da Franco: Frankly, a Great Italian Restaurant in Astoria

Posted on June 10, 2010. Filed under: Astoria, Fine Dining, Italian, Outdoor Seating/Patio |

I was skeptical about this place from the start. Though it is seconds from Astoria Park, Da Franco is easy to pass by. Slightly hidden, it is located in a strip mall on the first floor of a monstrosity that some refer to as luxury condominiums. Though, don’t let the uninspiring setting deter you from experiencing a delicious meal. Despite its unfortunate whereabouts, this fine Italian restaurant is overflowing with superb Italian cuisine from one entree to the next.

The first edibles of the evening were the toasted slices of bread doused in olive oil that promptly arrived soon after ordering our drinks. As a general rule of dining, I try not to fill up on the bread, but this was the best damn plate of free bread I had ever eaten before a meal. Needless to say, I filled up. In spite of the bread basket strategy gone awry, we proceeded to order a few appetizers. My dining partners and I started the night with the fried calamari and polenta e gorgonzola; two vastly different but extraordinary introductions to our Italian feast. The calamari was crispy and fresh. The polenta was pan fried to perfection, until the golden cornmeal pudding was soft on the inside with a slightly crunchy crust then drizzled over with a rich gorgonzola sauce. The main courses took some time to make an appearance on our table, but they were worth the wait. Among them were the special of the night, grilled shrimp entree- a plate of slightly blacken shrimp with fresh vegetables. Next on the table was the red snapper oreganata, breaded broiled red snapper with garlic. My personal favorite of the evening was the homemade pasta dish, agnolotti dello chef, a spinach ravioli with salmon and shrimp in a light bourbon sauce. The little ravioli pockets were soft but not chewy, stuffed with warm spinach and seafood and covered in a hot bourbon sauce. Every meal we enjoyed was delicately prepared and presented with substantial proportions. I am so glad we finally made our way past the facade of the giant luxury building to discover this Italian gem. Da Franco offers catering, delivery, gelato stand and outdoor seating.

Da Franco Italian Restaurant 23-92 21st Street Astoria NY 718-267-0010

grilled shrimp

homemade ravioli

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Ornella Trattoria Casual Italian Dining in Astoria

Posted on May 7, 2010. Filed under: Astoria, Italian | Tags: , , , |

When Giuseppe Viterale decided to open a restaurant named after his wife, he created a place where locals can eat home style Italian cooking in a warm casual atmosphere. Italian food is easy to find in Astoria, but this place is unique because it offers a moderately priced menu in a relaxed environment and pasta selections you can’t find any where else. The regional specialties include hearty buckwheat pasta, chickpea noodles and, my personal favorite, Chestnut pasta and bread. The Viterale’s main focus is uncovering the authentic tastes from Italy and bringing them to you right here in Astoria. I had never heard of chestnut pasta or bread until I tried them at a tasting here, and they blew me away! The smooth nutty flavor is complemented by a subtle sweetness, unlike pasta dishes I have tasted previously. After hearing all the positive reviews, my mother and I headed over to 23rd avenue to see what else they offered. We found that the food was not the only thing to get excited about, the service was also  impeccable. They treat you like a king at Ornella. The wait staff was genuinely friendly and personable. We often felt as if we were dining as guests in their home rather than strangers in a restaurant. We started off with a special appetizer of fresh mozzarella atop of arugula and tomatoes. This was a the perfect introduction to our Italian feast. After we finished our first course, our server Sergio whisked away our empty plate to make room for the main dish, tonno all’aceto balsamico- grilled tuna served with vegetables in a balsamic reduction. This was a hearty cut of tuna steak grilled and served rare. The slightly smokey taste was a good contrast when smothered in the sweet vinegar reduction. Luckily we managed to save some room for desert. A fluffy Italian cheesecake with a hint of orange graced our bellies. This light dessert went down easy as we sat at our sidewalk table watching the sunset. Being the warm-loving Italian that she is, my mother instantly struck up a conversation with the friendly Giuseppe Viterale. We not only chatted about Italy and food but he also mentioned that he owns a beautiful farm upstate where he will soon begin hosting cooking classes in July. We can’t wait to try them! And more importantly we can’t wait to eat more delicious Italian fare. Ornella has unlimited mimosa brunch that I can’t wait to try, and inexpensive  lunch specials for those working (or not working) in the area.

Ornella Trattoria Italiana Astoria 29-17 23rd Ave 718-777-9477

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New Balkan Restaurant in Astoria: Dino’s Bar & Restaurant

Posted on October 28, 2009. Filed under: Astoria, Balkan, Entertainment, Italian, Music & Dance | Tags: , , |

Chef Dino Redzic seems to change his restaurants’ names more often than hip-hop star P. Diddy (or was it Puff Daddy?) changes his. First there was Amici Amore Italian restaurant and then it was Momento Italian Bistro. Well this time he is not only changing the name to Dino’s Bar and Restaurant, but he is also changing the menu, expanding his Italian Mediterranean coast-line fare to the Montenegrin and Balkan regions. The dishes range from traditional Italian carpaccio manzo or Spaghetti with Meat Sauce to more unique Balkan grill plates like raznjici (veal shish kabob with onion and vegetables). Dino offers early bird specials $9.99 entrees 4pm-7pm, an extensive wine list and cooking classes once a month on Saturday (adults) & Sunday (children). They feature live Balkan music every Fri, Sat & Sun. Check out the website for deliciously appetizing photos of  the food or just go in and try it! If you have already been there, let me know what you thought!

Dino’s Bar & Restaurant 29-35 Newtown Ave Astoria, Ny 718-267-2771

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Wine by the Shot at Vesta Trattoria and Wine Bar in Astoria

Posted on January 16, 2009. Filed under: Astoria, Cheap Dining, Date Spot/ Romantic, Fine Dining, Italian |

100_08071 Vesta Trattoria and Wine Bar (21-02 30th Ave 30th Ave N/W train or Q69 bus) isn’t going to change your world of culinary experiences. It is however, a fantastic place to go for a romantic night of Italian eating and drinking. The thing that makes Vesta a unique step above other restaurants, is that you can order wine by the shot, glass or bottle.  This is an affordable and practical phenomenon, and puts fine dining within reach. Shot glasses of wine start at $2.50 and glasses around $7. There are bubblies, whites and reds to choose from- mostly small regional labels imported from Italy. The red Salice Salentino offers a fruity dry  taste similar to that of a fine Malbec and the white Gravina is fruity and tart. The appetizers and sides like the crispy seared brussel sprouts or the beet salad are simple and elegant dishes that compliment almost any meal.  The potato and pancetta pizza is an unusual combination of meat, starch, apples, goat cheese and a sweet caramelized onion sauce (in place of the traditional tomato sauce) topped with arugula . The fresh vegetables and meat are arranged on a thin crispy crust large enough for two. At Vesta the three meat lasagna isn’t oozing with molten cheese or bursting with flavor. It is a more refined and simpler version of what diners might otherwise normally encounter. The service is genuinely attentive and down-to-earth. It is a blend of neighborhood friendliness with a romantic edge. The atmosphere provides a youthful hipness with Cold Play, Interpol and The Gossip  playing on the stereo without being pretentiously unwelcoming. Vesta stays loyal to the local economy by purchasing artwork and baked goods from the surrounding neighborhood. They are open late, serve brunch, offer a great date spot at very reasonable prices.

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Manducatis Rustico- Cafe – Pizzeria Long Island City

Posted on September 22, 2008. Filed under: Bakery, Coffee/Tea Shop, Date Spot/ Romantic, Fine Dining, IceCream/Ice/Gelato/Fro-Yo, Italian, LIC, Pizza! |

Manducatis Rustica (46-31,33,35 Vernon Blvd 718-937-1312) better be damn good, as they take up three addresses on the famed Vernon Blvd. There are three parts to this pizza/cafe shop-  the kitchen with the giant brick oven, the coffee/dessert shop and the actual dining room. They offer brick oven pizza, though not by the slice, traditional Italian food, freshly baked breads, gourmet coffee and the best of all, sweets- pastries sprinkled in powder sugar and tasty gelato- from chocolate to banana to jasmine to blueberry. Not to be mistaken for the original Manducatis on Jackson Ave, this place offers a new kind of dining atmosphere to LIC. Its quaint rustic feel goes beyond the traditional exposed brick walls.  Walking into the cafe you are transported to what resembles an old fashioned dessert parlor. There’s an antique cash register, old photos, even the curtains are reminiscent of decades gone by. The counter offers a window side bar to prop yourself on for some snacks. There are also tables in the back for more substantial fare. Manducatis Rustico is a unique addition to LIC.

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Top 5 Pizza Places in Astoria & Queens

Posted on April 19, 2008. Filed under: Astoria, Cheap Dining, Italian, Pizza! |

#5 Sac’s Astoria 25-41 Broadway Specializes in coal oven–– great for the fresh toppings, crispy crust and coal oven taste. This Italian eatery also offers traditional appetizers and entrees. The ambiance is nice but casual- side walk tables in the summer are a plus!

#4 Trattoria L’incontro Astoria 21-46 31st St at Ditmars Specializes in brick oven–This decadent but slightly tacky restaurant is one of the best Italian splurges in the entire city! They serve traditional Italian entrees, extensive wine list, daily specials galore and brick oven pizza cooked to perfection. It’s more than a restaurant, it’s an experience. Service is extremely friendly and attentive- bring your wallet.

#3 Rose & Joe’s Bakery Astoria 22-40 31st  Specializes in Sicilian slices–Grab a slice of authentic Sicilian pizza at Rose & Joe’s. Fluffy and buttery crust makes you go mmm. The service is friendly, but seating is not available…the pizza is delicious.

#2 Michelangelo’s Pizza Astoria 29-11 23rd Ave. 718-932-2096 & Whitestone  Specializes in Thin Crust Pizza–Fresh toppings are spread onto a thin crust with edges that are browned just enough to give it a crispy crunch. Casual and clean atmosphere, delivery available.

Now for # 1…your choice! Where do you go for pizza?

Adam says his favorite is Famous Pizza in Elmhurst 8307 Broadway 718-271-3000 “The crust is like butta! They specialize in personal pan pizza- which is what I get when working in the ER at Elmhurst Hospital. Delivery could be faster, but it’s worth the wait.”

Dora says her favorite is Alba’s in Astoria 36-20 Ditmars blvd 718-932-5924 “Alba’s is a family-owned establishment with a delicious slice!  The sauce has a sweet tang to it and the crust is perfectly soft with a satisfying crispiness on the bottom.   Alba’s also offers a traditional Italian menu. A bonus is the soda fountain, something you don’t find all that often in NYC”

Diana says her favorite is Marabella Pizzeria 41-07 Greenpoint Ave, Sunnyside (718) 786-4635 … rumor is she’s got a crush on a pizza boy…

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