By Suzanne Parker
Oro is a sleek new Italian restaurant in Long Island City. One of a new wave of upscale eateries descending on the area, it is no doubt intended to serve the needs of recent and soon-to-be residents brought by LIC’s dizzying residential development boom.
The restaurant is the latest venture of the Celic family, formerly the owners of Appetito in Manhattan. They describe the restaurant as “modern Italian cuisine in a contemporary environment, with a farm-to-table seasonal menu.” We were assured that all the pastas and desserts are house made, and ingredients locally sourced, although there is no specificity about their provenance on the menu.
The spanking new dining room, capable of seating 160, has a corporate feel. Its high ceilings are punctuated by multiple starburst chandeliers. Apart from the lighting fixtures, and a somewhat odd artificial fireplace that we first mistook for a weird, fishless aquarium, there are no decorative touches. A painting or two, along with some sheer curtains to shield diners from the gritty streetscape and curious passers-by, would not be misplaced. It also wouldn’t hurt to lose the paper tablecloth protectors, at least at dinnertime.
The menu offers abundant options for all dining styles. Supplementing the usual antipasti, primi and secondi options are various mix-and-match categories from which diners could assemble an array of small plates to share—or not. These include a raw bar, crudo, pizza and a “mingling platter” of charcuterie, cheeses and condiments. The wine list is well-chosen, and 160 bottles deep, although prices start at $39 with no “house wine” option for the budget-minded.
Our small plate choices all shone. Our delightful salad of baby greens, Champagne vinaigrette, roasted tomatoes, beets, shaved red onion and Tallegio cheese had a surprise at the bottom. Just when we began to wonder,“Where’s the beets?” we discovered a foundation layer of thinly sliced pink heritage beets. The roasted tomatoes and bits of Tallegio melded with the other ingredients to relieve it of any ordinariness.
A dough-defyingly thin Margherita pizetta proved that sometimes you just can’t beat simplicity. This small square “pie” was nicely charred by the brick oven and dressed in a grid pattern of sauce and house-made fresh mozzarella.
Gnocchi Sorrentino with beef Bolognese sauce and fresh Mozzarella is a classic crowd pleaser. Here the plump pillows of potato dough have found the sweet spot between tender and mushy. The sauce is zesty in places and less so in others, but on balance it is a creditable rendition.
The more interesting of the two entrees we tried was swordfish over a very Mediterranean pilaf of roasted farro. The pilaf was laced with chopped olives, roasted tomatoes and kale.
On the advice of our server, who mentioned that the 14-oz. New York Strip Steak with truffle butter was one of Oro’s signature dishes, we tried it. It was a very good, but not extraordinary piece of meat. It was tender, but with significant gristle and only minimally juicy. It was abutted by a pat of truffle butter. For this offering, Oro switched to the steakhouse mode, including not a wisp of accompaniment—unless you count the sprig of rosemary. At $44 plus $7 each if you want to add sides, entrees from either the “Carne” or “Pesce” categories are preferable options.
The Bottom Line
Oro offers quality “modern Italian” fare in comfortable surroundings with attentive professional service. With their house-made pastas, farm-to-table ingredients, and spectrum of offerings in both grazing and chowing-down categories, this could be the modern take on old school.
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
IF YOU GO
41-17 Crescent Street, Long Island City, NY 11101
Price Range: Appetizers: $11-16; Pizza/Pasta: $16-26; Entrees: $21-$52
Cuisine: Modern Italian
Setting: New spacious dining room with a corporate feel.
Service: Attentive professional
Hours: Monday – Wednesday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Thursday 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. (bar open until 2:30 a.m.), Saturday 4:30 pm-11 pm (bar open until 2:30 am)
Reservations: Optional, phone or OpenTable
Alcohol: Full bar
Parking: Lot across street. Will validate stub for up to 3 hours.
Dress: Casual to dressy
Music: Occasional DJ
Credit cards: All
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes