Maspeth Italian eatery reintroduces chef to SW Queens

Maspeth Italian eatery reintroduces chef to SW Queens
By Suzanne Parker

We used to have a favorite Italian restaurant, tucked away in an obscure part of Glendale. La Tavernetta had everything — great food, modest prices and warm hospitality. It had the added cachet of being far enough off the beaten track that you had to know about it to know about it.

Gradually those in the know told those not in the know, and the result was crowds on the sidewalk waiting for tables. This led Michael Zampitelli, the owner, to relocate to larger quarters in a more heavily trafficked location in Forest Hills. Such are the vicissitudes of the restaurant biz that his Forest Hills endeavor only lasted a year or two.

Zampitelli wandered in the wilderness for a while, briefly operating a restaurant in eastern Queens, working in Manhattan kitchens, and taking some needed time off. He’s back now with Osteria Italiana in Maspeth, and it looks like he’s got his old mojo back, too.

“Osteria,” according to Wikipedia, “was originally a place serving wine and simple food. Lately, the emphasis has shifted to the food, but menus tend to be short, with an emphasis on local specialties.” This is what Zampitelli does best. In unpretentious surroundings, he serves northern and regional Italian fare that would compare favorably with some of New York’s most celebrated kitchens.

Just like in his old places, an amuse bouche accompanies menu perusal—in this case a savory eggplant caponata. This used to alternate with eggplant rollatini as a freebie. For old times’ sake, we ordered the rollatini to see if it measured up to our memory. This lightly fried roll of deliciousness, oozing ricotta and Parmesan, and blanketed with marina, measured up admirably.

Zampitelli, without question, is a master of pasta. All of the pastas here are house made daily. Cooked al dente, they all share that elasticity and resistance that can only be achieved with fresh pasta. Our longstanding favorite has been his ravioli di vitello burro, salvia, e speck. In other words, veal with butter, sage and Speck (Proscuitto’s smokier cousin). The relatively bland flavor of the veal is enlivened by the assertive flavors of the sage and Speck, and mellowed by the butter. But as delicious as it was, it received stiff competition from a special, lobster ravioli. The filling in the lobster ravioli, a bargain at $15.95, was almost pure lobster. It comes drenched in a butter sauce and studded with bits of leek and asparagus. We’d wager that you won’t find better in any of Manhattan’s most hyped eateries.

Linguine with clams comes in a white wine sauce redolent with garlic and crisply sautéed basil leaves. Or choose from three different versions of fillet of sole: Franchese, accua pazza or oreganatta. The accua pazza, is a delicate dish of poached sole topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and shredded basil leaves, in a white wine sauce paired up with a mound of spinach. This is a nice dish if you’re looking for something on the lighter side.

The meat and poultry choices are mostly drawn from tried and true Italian hit parade. Veal saltimbocca is an earthy preparation of scaloppini with spinach and Prosciutto. As the season changes, the veal stew, more like a goulash than a stew with a paprika based gravy would warm the innards.

The desserts here also adhere strictly to Italian culinary traditions. For diehard chocoholics, there’s a scrumptious torta caprese, the Italian take on the flourless chocolate cake made from chocolate and almonds.

The Bottom Line

Going to Osteria Italian was like reconnecting with a long lost friend. It has all the elements that we loved about the old La Tavernetta. The food is terrific. The prices are modest. There are even running a special of 25 percent off menu price at lunchtime. The service is like family. It even has an out of the way location (assuming you don’t live in Maspeth) to give it cachet. Go there while it’s still new and undiscovered—before the lines form.

Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfoodie@aol.com.

Osteria Italiana

57-59 61st St.

Maspeth, NY 11378

(718) 894-4391

Price Range: Appetizers: $7.95-$12.95, Pastas: $7.95-$14.95 Entrees: $12.95-$18.95

Cuisine: Northern and regional Italian

Setting: Medium sized, simply decorated.

Service: Friendly and attentive

Hours: Open seven days, Noon-11 pm

Reservations: Optional

Alcohol: License pending (complimentary wine or BYOB)

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Children: Children’s menu

Music: No

Takeout: Yes

Credit cards: Nope.
Cash only

Noise level: Acceptable

Handicap accessible: Yes