By Suzanne Parker
When we heard Chef Rocco Sacramone, of Trattoria L’Incontro, had partnered with Tommy Demaraso, owner of Cavo restaurant and lounge in Astoria, for a new venture in Long Island City, we were really excited.
Ask any hardcore Queens foodie where to find the best Italian fare in the borough, and there is a fair to middlin’ chance that the name Trattoria L’Incontro will trip off her/his tongue.
The problem, for us, has always been that the Trattoria’s ambience did not live up to the high quality of the cuisine. The tables are close together, and the volume of ambient noise all but precludes earnest conversation. We were optimistic that this new endeavor would boast a dining room that was worthy of the prowess of the kitchen.
We drove to Long Island City, secure in the knowledge that Maiella’s valet parking would relieve us of the burden of finding a spot in that congested vicinity. Buzz kill was finding out that the valet parking was $7, paid in advance. Is this a trend? Hope not.
Maiella occupies a 7,800-square-foot space with a 2,200-square-foot outdoor terrace on the ground floor of a spanking new luxury high rise.
The dining room overlooks the back of the landmarked Pepsi sign, superimposed on a panorama of Manhattan. It is light and airy, done up with just a touch of repurposed chic created by its reclaimed wood ceiling, as perhaps a nod to the nabe’s industrial roots.
Maiella’s menu touches upon a broad swath of Italian cuisine. You can order a full traditional dinner with an antipasto, a pasta course, a main and dessert or opt instead for a platter of salumi and formaggi with some wine or zero in on pizza.
The menu does not demand obedience to a particular dining style or appetite level. Pack it away or nibble—your choice. They even throw in an Italian preferiti category of favorites like chicken, eggplant or veal parmigiana for the intractably old school.
One of the hallmarks of Trattoria L’Incontro is the way the wait staff always rattles off a mind-boggling recitation of specials. That tradition is preserved here. We have no idea how diners or servers can keep track, but we did manage to snag a terrific salad from the oration. The salad in question, Finocchioni and Fig, combined the flavors of Tuscan fennel infused finocchiona salami and grilled figs with arugula and baby spinach festooned with a strip of Parmesano.
We dug into Melanzane Ripene, blanketed in chunky tomato sauce. It was a cut above the typical eggplant rollatine with the addition of spinach to the mozzarella filling.
For our pasta course we chose Papardelle con Coniglio. At $29, it was a pricey bowl of noodles.
The papardelle were wonderful ribbons of chewiness. The rabbit ragu was lush and toothsome, but stingy with the bunny.
There was nary a misstep when it came to our entrées. Acting on a tip from our server, we order the Costola Corta (braised short ribs) over mushroom risotto instead of the polenta that was on the menu. The short ribs were satisfying, but the risotto was the star. The porcini mushrooms gave it its fragrance, but the combined mascarpone, fontina, parmigiano and gorgonzola gave it its decadent elastic cheesiness and flavor.
Anatra was the Italian answer to duck l’orange. The rosy pan seared duck breast nestled sweetly over plump gooseberries in a moscato sauce. Sweet, but not cloying.
The Merluzzo al Pistacchio (pan seared cod with pistachio puree) was sweet fleshed and lush, but the flavor of the pistachio puree was not as pronounced as we had hoped, rendering the dish somewhat bland.
Desserts lingered in Italian crowd pleaser terrain. We sampled Maiella’s Semifreddo—almond-flavored frozen custard topped with zambaglione. What could possibly be not to like?
The Bottom Line
The food at Maiella is excellent if a bit pricey for Queens. The ambiance is stylish with its Manhattan view. The downside is that although it is spacious and comfortable, due to its popularity, by the time we left it seemed as noisy as the old Trattoria L’.
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 qnsfo
46-10 Center Blvd.
Long Island City
Price Range: Appetizers: $9-18; Entrées: $26- 44; Pizza: $13-19
Cuisine: Central Italian
Setting: Spacious stylish dining room with a view of Manhattan
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 5pm-11pm Sunday 5pm – 10pm
Reservations: Recommended. Phone or OpenTable
Alcohol: Full bar
Dress: Casual to dressy
Credit cards: All
Noise level: Noisy when busy
Handicap accessible: Yes