(Sauvignon Blanc Jelly at Rèst-âü-Ránt)
(This article was originally published in edited form the Oct '11 issue of Boro Magazine)
As New Yorkers begin to pack away their sandals, shorts, and swimsuits in exchange for denim, wool, and a warmer wardrobe, so also do the city’s eateries hibernate their summer fare in exchange for autumn menus of more comforting cuisine that no longer threatens to compromise bikini curves. Here is a rundown of some of the seasonal stars now showcased on the menus of four of the neighborhood’s favorite restaurants.
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Few menus in the neighborhood evolve as frequently as Ornella Trattoria, where chef-owner Giuseppe Viterale daily scours the local markets for inspiration to reinvent his favorite regional Italian dishes. While the weekly specials remain the same (Monday $14.95 Steak Night, Tuesday 1½ lb lobster over seafood pasta for $21, Wednesday any chicken dish for $13, and Thursday any pasta special for $10), Ornella introduces three exceptional new brunch items for the fall.
Hangover Pasta will shatter any notions you had that noodles cannot satiate a brunch craving. Homemade pappardelle is boiled in milk, adding a unique texture and sweetness to the broad pasta ribbons which are then tossed with savory bits of bacon, a drizzle of truffle oil, and topped with a fried egg—sort of like a carbonara gone crazy.
Classic Italian Lard Bread laced with tender slices of shredded peppered bacon arrives at Ornella via Williamsburg, where it is then transformed into a luxurious pedestal for eggs benedict, a delicious upgrade from the standard muffin.
The Roman Fried Cheese Sandwich could overtake any competitor grilled cheese in a cage fight. Ornella’s spin on a classic spiedini alla romana, homemade foccacia is generously stuffed with fresh mozzarella, fried, and then blanketed with a creamy reduction of brandy, anchovies, shallots, and capers.
In college, Giuseppe Viterale perfected his personal espresso, and if you coax him, he just might do it tableside for you. Granulated sugar receives the first few drops of the percolated brew, which he then vigorously whips by hand into an espresso marshmallow, which dissolves into a sweet cap of foam floating atop the Italian coffee.
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The menu at El Ay Si has been described as eclectic and global, but regardless of labels, it’s universally comforting and tasty—also generously portioned and reasonably priced. Happy Hour extends Wednesday through Sunday from 4-7PM with $5 well drinks, $4 pints, $6 wines, and $8 specialty cocktails, and Bingo on Sundays. Mark your calendar for an old-school Prohibition & Flapper Halloween Party on Sunday, October 30th.
An iron skillet of rotini spirals swimming in béchamel, studded with applewood smoked bacon, and crowned with golden-baked cheese, this comfort classic is addictively straightforward and soothing.
Both nostalgic and scrumptious, heaping piles of crunchy tater tots are a must-have addition to any meal for just five bucks. And if you’re up for a splurge, they can arrive “disco style” with white gravy and cheddar, or even loaded with three-bean veggie chili and cheese.
When it comes to nachos, this gargantuan platter isn’t playing around; there’s a reason this monster appears under “Mains” rather than “Small Bites”. Homemade tortilla chips remain miraculously crunchy, even when partnered with any of the eight topping options—or better yet, “the works” (pictured), with everything from skirt steak and grilled chicken to chili and avocado.
No, you didn’t misread the menu. That dish is called Chicken Fried Chicken. It’s a traditional name for country fried chicken, referring to the manner in which it is prepared. Even steak can be “chicken fried.” But the country chicken platter at El Ay Si would have a challenge finding a rival. Juicy chicken coated in crispy batter arrives on a pillow of smashed potatoes, all with a peppered white gravy, and a side of buttery green beans.
You haven’t tasted a hush puppy until you’ve enjoyed one of these jalapeno sweet corn fritters. Packing the perfect punch of spice, these golden breaded orbs are dipped in a ramekin of pure honey for the ultimate harmony of savory and sweet.
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Whether sharing Cavo's small plates like the veal meatballs stuffed with sheep’s milk cheese in the outdoor sunken garden, or settling down for an intimate meal in Astoria’s most glamorous dining room with cathedral ceilings and contemporary chandeliers soaring what seems like miles overhead, it doesn’t take long to see the artwork on the plate is just as spectacular as the surroundings. Fall specials include a free bottle of wine with the purchase of two entrees on Mondays, 1/2 price on all entrees on Tuesdays, 50% off the manager’s wine list on Wednesdays, Thursdays Ladies Night Speciqaals, and $20 sangria pitchers each Sunday.
Black angus short ribs are slowly braised for four hours to fall-apart-at-the-touch tenderness, showcased on a dollop of creamy polenta, and then draped with an exquisite red wine reduction with fall vegetables, and a kiss of microgreens. This mastepiece pairs beautifully with a bottle of Amethystos, a full-bodied charismatic “wine of drama” from the vineyards of Greece.
Striped pasta pockets are stuffed with four Greek cheeses, then served in a creamy feta sauce with a drizzle of truffle oil. One of the area’s most unique ravioli dishes, it is an absolute must for any pasta-lover.
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It may seem slightly hidden off-the-beaten path, but Rèst-âü-Ránt is just a block away from the 36th Ave N/Q line, and worth every step. Featuring an extensive selection of wine, beer, and cocktails, this cozy corner kitchen is the ideal place to share a snack with friends. Local comedians take the spotlight on Tuesdays at 10PM, music showcases at 9PM on Thursdays, and plans are underway for a Halloween costume party. The diverse menu ranges from dumplings to fondue, but the fall specials are inspired by the grape harvest season.
A flatbread of homemade focaccia is spread with fresh goat cheese, halved red grapes, and sprigs of rosemary, toasted in the oven.
A trio of Organic North Shore Long Island Sliders are basted in a shallot-merlot reduction, topped with velvety melted gorgonzola, tomato, and a frisee salad, all sandwiched on Turkish somun bread from local Pain D’Avignon Bakery.
Proof that dessert can be light and refreshing, this gorgeously inventive jelly is made from sauvignon blanc and jeweled with whole white grapes, served with a mint sprig and a dollop of fresh cream—reason enough alone to make a visit.