I had the pleasure of attending a food tasting event last week at Ornella Trattoria, a lovely Italian Restaurant in the Astoria section of Queens. The owner Giuseppe Viterale personally invited a group of about eight of us to come out and try some of his most famous dishes. As you all should know by now, I am a major foodie so I gladly accepted. Giuseppe asked in advance if I required any special dishes such as gluten free or vegan, and since I’m a new Pescatarian I informed him that meat is a no no for me. I was a little nervous that this would dampen my experience, but Giuseppe made me some amazing substitutes when he was serving a dish that I couldn’t eat.
Before we get into the food, let’s talk a little more about owner Giuseppe Viterale. He is extremely passionate about his family and his food, and is quite the funny guy. The restaurant is named for his wife, Ornella. Giuseppe believes that food should be all about taste, an explosion in the mouth. “If you want to know if something tastes good, give it to a kid.” He went on to explain that children don’t care about fancy presentation, they just care whether or not the food is good and they will let you know if it’s not. Giuseppe is an Architect by education and the former owner of popular Italian Restaurant & Nightclub Lavo in NYC. He has a family farm in the Catskills where he makes his own Prosciutto, and he uses organic ingredients his dishes. His family also owns a flour mill where he makes his different flours.
Before dinner, we were served an Aperitivo or pre-dinner drink. It had a very strong and bitter taste with notes of grapefruit and orange peels. It wasn’t really my cup of tea so I didn’t drink much of it, but the fresh bread served along with it was delicious.
The first dish served was Giuseppe’s homemade prosciutto with burrata, fresh mozzarella stuffed with ricotta cheese. Since I don’t eat meat, my dish was served with smoked salmon and capers. This was absolutely delicious and the burrata was so smooth and creamy. The combination was divine.
Next up was a warm pasta salad served with prosciutto, basil, cantaloupe and grated parmesan. Once again my prosciutto was substituted with smoked salmon. I was a little apprehensive of the melon paired with the pasta but OMG it was so good. I even took some home.
Next up, Pizoccheri, homemade buck wheat pasta, cabbage and potatoes in a fontina cheese sauce. It was reminiscent of the german cabbage and potatoes dish and really good. The pasta was very thick and chewy.
The next dish is one of Giuseppe’s specialties, Pasta di Castagna, a chestnut flour pasta in a cream and pistachio sauce with truffle oil. I loved this dish. The pasta was really light and paired nicely with the rich and slightly sweet sauce. Now this is what you would call an “explosion in the mouth.”
The next dish served was pan seared pork in a tuna sauce, but I was given grouper in a tomato reduction sauce as my substitute. This was amazing as well. It was my first time having grouper and I really enjoyed the light and flaky, yet meaty texture. This is now one of my favorite fish.
The rest of the girl’s really wanted to try Giuseppe’s famous Duck Meatballs filled with cheese in a brandy-orange reduction sauce with raisins, so he gladly served some up. I wanted to try some so bad but I refrained.
After dinner we were served Digestivo, an after dinner drink made with lemon italian ice, vodka and I believe wine. This was sooo good. Giuseppe sat with us and chatted some more about his food philosophies.
There’s a Yelp wall in the bathroom with negative reviews posted up. Now that’s what I call accepting constructive criticism.
I left Ornella Trattoria with a big old smile as my belly was full and I really enjoyed the company of the other ladies and Giuseppe. He was so sweet and treated us as his own family. It was such a fun night and I am very appreciative of the hospitality that Giuseppe showed. Ornella Trattoria is a restaurant in NYC that you must visit!
Ornella Trattoria, 29-17 23rd Ave, Astoria, Queens