December 18, 2017

Celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception at Ornella Trattoria in Astoria, Queens

Chef Giuseppe Viterale and his son Giovanni behind the bar
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
We temporarily broke our Advent fast Friday night for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception at Ornella Trattoria (29-17 23rd Avenue) in Astoria, Queens. We’ve been hearing good things about the neighborhood hotspot for awhile now, so we finally took the long overdue trip to see for ourselves what all the excitement was about. I’m glad we did, because Ornella did not disappoint.
Ornella Trattoria
Dropping the car off with the valet, we made our way in from the cold and were warmly greeted by owner and executive chef Giuseppe Viterale. Intimate and cozy, the narrow restaurant made it feel almost like we were at a casual dinner party in a friends dining room.
Quickly seated, our party put in our drink orders and perused the wide-ranging selection of southern Italian and Italian American delicacies on the menu. Unsure what to order, we deffered to Giuseppe and let him choose our meal for us. From there, his attentive and friendly sons, Angelo and Giovanni, kept bringing out the food. 
Our feast began with the affettati e formaggio, a wood cutting board generously covered with thinly sliced artisanal salumi, imported Manchego cheese, and assorted olives. The platter was served with bread and three tasty homemade preserves, including a sweet caramelized onion spread, an old-fashion raspberry marmalade, and, my personal favorite, a spicy diavulillu jam. 
Affettati e formaggio
Perfectly paired with a heaping serving of gamberi con fagioli cannellini (broiled shrimp with cannellini beans cooked with garlic and rosemary) and a creamy burrata over a mound of sautéed mushrooms and onions, the plates were continuously passed to and fro so everyone could enjoy seconds and thirds.
Gamberi con fagioli cannellini
The antipasti was soon followed by two mouthwatering fresh pasta (pasta fresca) dishes. 
First we had Giuseppe’s signature Pasta di Castagna, a rustic pizzoccheri made with chestnut flour and smothered in a creamy pistachio sauce. A drizzle of truffle oil added an earthy nuance to the dish. Then came a savory cuttlefish-ink spaghettoni with black garlic and anchovies, topped with toasted bread crumbs. Both culinary masterpieces were distinct and delicious. 
Burrata with sautéed mushrooms and onions
Unfamiliar with black garlic, Giuseppe brought out a few cloves for us to try. Jokingly referred to as “kissing fruit,” the black-as-coal fermented bulbs were tasty and unexpectedly mild in comparison to regular garlic, but alas they’re still detrimental to smooching.
Pasta di Castagna
After a much-needed breather, our seafood entrees were brought to the table. We started with the Calamari all Griglia served over a field of greens and tomatoes. Perfectly cooked, the calamari were tender and flavorful. Next was a delicious merluzzo al forno in a Marsala and mushroom reduction. Flakey and moist, the battered and baked fillets went perfectly with the rich and silky Marsala sauce. 
Spaghettoni with black garlic and anchovies
Our sumptuous repast was capped off with a classic tiramisu and a decadent chocolate moose cake. Naturally, coffee followed dessert, then we joyfully imbibed some limoncello and grappa by the bar with Giuseppe for the finale. 
Calamari all Griglia
As our little group is wont to do, at the end of the evening we took a celebratory photo with the flag of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Keeping with tradition, the ensign was blessed earlier at morning Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception
We cannot thank Chef Viterale enough for making our holiday celebration at Ornella so special. Giuseppe and his hardworking sons went above and beyond to make us feel at home. The food and atmosphere were extraordinary and the service was impeccable; we look forward to returning soon.
Two Sicilies pride on display at Ornella
Ornella Trattoria ★★★★★
29-17 23rd Avenue
Queens, New York 11105
Tel 718-777-9477