Though Manhattan’s Chinatown has all but subsumed Little Italy, chefs Martino and Lucas have countered by opening Magna Ristorante in downtown Flushing.
Nestled under the Wingate Hotel which dominates Northern Boulevard just east of Main Street, this little gem of a restaurant is around the corner on Farrington Street.
Magna’s simple elegance - light earth tones, wood, brick and stone - stands in sharp contrast with the Ginza-like splash of bright signage across the street. Here, it’s the food that is brilliant.
“This is our baby,” said Martino, who like a stern Sicilian-Calabrese father, wants his baby to be perfect. “We worked in a very famous place - I can’t say where, just tell them ‘Little Italy is here,’” he said, as he scooted off to demonstrate a proper service technique to a new staff member.
From the outset, you see the attention to detail, from the meticulous place settings to presentation and preparation. The essence of Italian cucina is freshness and simplicity; both are very much in evidence here.
Since Magna doubles as in-house restaurant for the Hotel, they have an extensive collection of wine and spirits, including very upscale selections of both. The wine list includes a wide assortment of reasonably priced whites and reds, mostly from Italy and California, from the lightest of whites - Frascati, Orvieto and Gavi di Gavi to complex reds including Merlots, Barolos and Amarones. We sampled the house Cabernet Sauvignon, Montepulciano and Chianti; all were pleasing and well-selected.
While you pore over the menu of very reasonably priced offerings, the staff brings treats, which have big flavors to wake up your taste buds.
The freshly toasted bruschetta, which you can bite without fear of it shattering into your lap, is bright and spicy. A plate of Parmigiana Reggiano hunks and sliced homemade Cacciatorini Salami add their textures and flavors and a side dish of fiery “Caponata arber” which Martino acknowledges, “has some kick,” get you primed and ready.
Contrast in taste and texture is part of the fun of dining and Magna promises a good time for the tongue. To follow the appetizers, the salads are crisp and the dressings well-balanced, the antipasti colorful and varied. The Calamari fritti are tender morsels perfectly cooked and the marinara sauce comes sweet or hot - which has both good flavor and good fire.
Even the soups are works of art. The minestrone features brightly colored vegetables each cooked to its own perfection, in a round, flavorful broth. The pasta fagioli and the firm bread they serve could be a meal in itself.
Every entr/e we tried was wonderful - perfectly cooked, herbed and sauced.
The Chicken Scarpariello was fragrant with rosemary. The baked Red Snapper filet was moist and flaky. The sauces were silky and enhanced rather than obscured their dish, and the Risotto was creamy and satisfying.
I had the signature Bistecca all’Marino. It’s a substantial portion of broiled chopped prime Angus sirloin with a good char and red inside, finished under a light Gorgonzola sauce, served with roasted potatoes and broccoli. Outstanding.
I have to confess that I ate everything on the plate and had no room for dessert. That’s not the only reason I’ll be heading back to Little Italy in Flushing - Magna - un Ristorante magnifico.
33-25 Farrington Street
Flushing, NY 11354
All major credit cards accepted
Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day
Reservations strongly recommended
Meter and on street parking nearby.
Mass Transit: A short walk to Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue.