How do I begin this post? The problem I face is that I know my words will not be able to convey how wonderful Ornella Trattoria is, and I need you to understand that this is a special place. It goes beyond the food because you are welcomed into the Viterale family (it’s named after the matriarch, Ornella) when you dine at Ornella’s, and the familial feeling and stories shared make the whole experience even better.
We were able to sample a bunch of dishes several weeks ago thanks to our friend Brad at Amuse*Bouche (he covered his initial meal at Ornella’s in a post here), and we are incredibly grateful. Seated with several other online editors and bloggers, we were in for a real treat. I could go on for a while about how gracious and lovely the Viterale family is, but I may bore you and you should just experience them for yourself. Instead, I’m going to dive right into the food (Laura’s thoughts in italics, McKenna’s opinion simply noted as [+], [-] or [?] – she likes to give simple likes, dislikes and mixed opinions.
Meats and Cheeses
I can’t pretend to remember the name of every meat and cheese sampled at the beginning of our meal, but I can tell you that I particularly liked the aged soppersata and borrata cheese (an offshoot of mozzarella). The borrata cheese is heaven. I’m not a fan of sharper cheese, so this soft and milder cheese was perfect for me. [+ for both].
Home baked breads (sourdough, focaccia, & chestnut breads)
I’m a carbovore, so this was all awesome. The breads were fresh and full of flavor, and this was the first time I tried chestnut bread. I didn’t think it was anything truly remarkable, but it was soft and good. I’d probably go for more focaccia if given the choice. [+]
Vongole all’ oreganata (baked little neck clams with garlic, parsley, bread crumbs, butter, & lemon zest)
I loved the clams. I’m a huge fan of clams oreganata (or anything with garlic, bread crumbs and butter, let’s get real here), so this was right up my alley and I could have had a whole platter myself. The breading and seasoning was good but it was a little on the salty side for me. But then again, I don’t like clams much. [+, McKenna did note that these are not the way she's used to having clams prepared, but she did like them].
Gamberi e fagioli (broiled shrimp & cannellini beans with garlic, rosemary, tomato, & olive oil)
I like shrimp and I like beans, so I liked this dish. It was a nice, light appetizer for the table.Â This reminded me of a Northern Italian dish and my only complaint is that I wish there were even more shrimp to eat. [+]
Broccoli di Rape (broccoli rabe with chilies, roasted garlic, & olive oil)
I hate broccoli rabe (too bitter for me), so I didn’t even try it. Laura and McKenna didn’t write a note about it so maybe we were all really healthy and decided to forgo vegetables for the evening…
Imbustata (pasta “envelope stuffed with veal, chicken, california spinach, wild mushrooms, mascarpone, & mozzarella in a light tomato sauce)
Oh my God…oh my God. This was unbelievable. The portions are usually about four times the size of what we were served, and as far as I’m concerned, the bigger the better. This was a truly unique and outstanding dish blending delicious flavors and textures in an envelope of pasta. This was my heaven. I thought this dish was phenomenal as well. Everything worked, especially the red sauce, and it was a favorite across the table. [+]
Polpette (homestyle meatballs with tomato sauce & basil)
As I’ve noted before, my dad simply makes the best meatballs. But I have to say that these ranked up there as some of the best I’ve tried. These were a little too garlicky for me, if that’s possible, although I did note that they were the softest and most aromatic balls I’ve experienced. Hmm, Laura, we’re not that kind of website.Â [+]
Red snapper with olives, capers, onions, and a cherry tomato sauce
We were split on this one. Although I don’t like black olives, I thought this was a fantastic dish and great mix of flavors. I think I took a break during this course. [-]
Braised beef short ribs with spring vegetables & gnocchi
So I wouldn’t think that braised beef short ribs and gnocchi would be a good pair, but in fact it was wonderful. I’m so glad I had the chance to try it because I wouldn’t have ordered it off the menu, but now that I know how delicious it is, I’ll be sure to get it again and again. This was surprisingly light and very flavorful. As Caryn said, “I just like to put the gnocchi on my tongue and let it sit for a bit.” [+, McKenna thought it tasted like Irish stew, in a very good way]
Pollo parmigiano with fior di latte mozzarella & tomato sauce
Very good, but also standard. With so many unique dishes served up as Ornella’s, I would probably pass on this in the future. But don’t get me wrong, it was very good. The best part of this dish was the fresh mozzarella cheese used. It broke apart in your mouth in a way that told you it wasn’t made with preservatives. [+]
Pasta di ceci (chickpea pasta with hearts of artichokes, black olives, capers, garlic, & oil)
I thought was particularly delicious. I heard rumors of trying chickpea pasta at Ornella’s, and as a huge fan of hummus I was naturally intrigued. While it didn’t taste quite like hummus (and that’s probably a good thing in this case), it was distinctly different from traditional wheat pasta and I liked it quite a lot. I too liked the chickpea pasta and the vegetables served with it, but the focus was definitely on the chickpea pasta. [+, although it was a little too al dente for me]
Pizzoccheri all Fontina (buckwheat pasta with cabbage, potatoes, & Fontina)
My memory is starting to get a little fuzzy with these three pasta dishes. This wasn’t my favorite of the night, but that’s fine. I think there was more than enough food to go around. I wasn’t the biggest fan either mainly because it fell apart in my mouth, but not in a good way like the mozzarella in the chicken parm. [-]
Pasta di Castagna (chestnut pasta with shrimp, arugula, cherry tomatoes, garlic, & oil)
I have to say that as with the chestnut bread, I didn’t notice anything special about this pasta. If you didn’t tell me it was made from chestnuts I probably wouldn’t have noticed the difference. That said, it was still very tasty, but I guess I was just expecting a wow-factor. I really liked this one, mostly because of the shrimp and other ingredients. [+, by far McKenna's favorite of the three pastas]
Torta di Melanzane (eggplant cake)
Believe it or not, this was a dessert. I would never think to use eggplant in a cake, but if we use carrots and zucchini to make sweet breads and cakes, I guess it’s not too out of the ordinary. I loved the texture of the cake as well as the taste. Again, Ornella’s cooked up something unique and it paid off. I thought this was good too, but I was getting a little too full to try anything more than a nibble at this point. [+]Melanzane al Cioccolato (sliced eggplant with ricotta & chocolate)
Another eggplant dessert and another tasty treat. Agreed. [+]
I adore lemon-flavored desserts so this was perfect for me; a nice balance of tart and sweet. I was too full, but this was good too. [+]
Tiramisu is my mom’s favorite dessert, and while I don’t love it quite like she does, I did really enjoy this tiramisu. Delicious again. [+]
Cheesecake (made with mascarpone cheese)
I can go either way with cheesecake and it’s clear that we hit the point of full several courses ago, so the idea of eating heavy cheesecake was a bit nauseating. However, I did squeeze in a very small bite and thought it was pretty good. I like Italian cheesecake, but for some reason this one tasted too much like lemon rinds to me. [+]
Espresso & Limoncello
I went into a food coma after this meal so I needed an espresso before I went out with Brad, his roommate David, Laura and McKenna for some karaoke, so this hit the spot. I don’t think Laura or McKenna had espresso or the limoncello, but I think we can assume they were pretty standard fare.
Well if this took me over an hour to write, I’m going to assume that no one actually read this. We tried to keep it succinct but we felt it was worth sharing some brief thoughts on each dish we sampled. If you can’t tell yet, we’re huge fans of Ornella’s and there is no doubt that it’s worth the mini-trek into Astoria for this quality of Italian food, and impeccable service. It’s about a 90 second walk from the Ditmars stop, so you really have no excuse. Just do yourself a favor and enjoy an amazing meal at Ornella’s sometime soon.
The Basics Name: Ornella Trattoria Location: 29-17 23rd Avenue, Astoria (right off the Ditmars stop) Who to take: Family, Friends, a Date Price: It is a little pricey (for us), but we definitely think it’s worth it! $$$-$$$$ Overall: 5 Stars, hands down.