Ornella Trattoria Italiana (29-17 23rd Ave)
Giuseppe Viterale is continually perfecting his craft. Though the steady menu maintains many of the favorites that have drawn devout regulars back to Ornella Trattoria over and over again, the chef-owner (along with his effervescent wife, Ornella) is almost daily trying new recipes that remind him of the dinner table of his childhood home in Italy. And the best part of his tedious trial-and-error process to hone the most delicious recipes for his customers? I fortunately get to play guinea pig and sample the final products before he introduces them to the public. Past experiments have resulted in some of my favorite items that never made it to the printed menu, such as his pistachio cream sauce, the sanguinaccio (blood pudding), seafood carbonara, and pasta latte (homemade noodles boiled in milk, sprinkled with cheese). But my recent taste tests have actually now arrived for everyone to enjoy. Two gourmet specialty pizzas, and an entirely reworked brunch menu with unlimited champagne drinks.
New omelettes arrive in every color of the Italian flag, exquisitely thin, and loaded with such flavors as spinach and goat cheese or the sweet hint of red beets.
Ornella's pancakes are miraculously thick, and light as air due to a secret preparation process that involves a combination of baking in a deep pan, and just a little bit of flipping. While these breakfast cakes are ideal for soaking maple syrup, you can also opt for a dish of Nutella instead for a more decadent twist.
Benedicts are served with either pancetta, or florentine style with spinach. But the traditional brunch items are also now served alongside some exciting new lunch fare, including a fettucine bolognese (the meat sauce requires hours of preparation, and is the best version I have ever tasted), a fried mozzarella sandwich topped with an egg, as well as several grilled sandwiches (mortadella & mozzarella) and even a farfalle with smoked salmon and vodka sauce. For a $10 supplement, diners can enjoy a bottomless champagne flute of mimosas and bellinis. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from noon to 3:30.
Giuseppe will also be introducing a few new gourmet pizzas, executed to insanely delicious effect. Though you may not yet see them on the menu, just ask. Pies are prepared in an individual size (or perfect for sharing along with a pasta dish). The margherita pie (pictured at the top of this post) is blanketed with a robust tomato sauce, and a bubbling golden layer of mozzarella, speckled with basil confetti. The crust is buttery and flaky, creating a standard pizza difficult to beat. But the Pig-In-A-Blanket demonstrates Giuseppe's unique way of taking an Italian favorite, and serving it with finesse. Here, the buttery crust is delicately sliced creating two thinner crusts, filled with arugula, prosciutto, and a house-aged cream cheese, the whole pie drizzled with truffle oil.
You may think you have already experienced Ornella Trattoria, but the culinary scene here is always-evolving. The bottom line is this: whether you stop by for brunch or dinner (or both), be sure to ask Giuseppe what's new in his test kitchen. Not only will he be more than happy to share, you might even get lucky enough to sample one of his off-menu works-in-progress.
Don't forget Monday is Italian Steak Night, with a selection of 16 oz. steaks for just $14.95 (try the sirloin au poivre or topped with gorgonzola cheese). And Thursday is pasta night, where any pasta on the menu is just $10. I highly recommend the buckwheat pasta tossed with fontina cheese, potatoes, and braised cabbage or the chickpea pasta with artichokes, garlic, and olives. You really can't go wrong. Reservations are accepted and highly recommended. Click the link at the top for more information.