If you’ve walked or driven past Astoria Boulevard lately, you may have noticed a cute outdoor Italian restaurant right in what used to be Astoria World Manor’s driveway.
The unique space, named Cornicello, almost looks as if it might be a pop-up event with its vintage signs and décor, but guests who have already become regulars don’t have to worry because the restaurant will be here to stay, serving fresh, handmade pasta throughout all seasons of the year.
The hybrid outdoor space, which first opened on July 29, has already been winterized to keep guests toasty while they enjoy a hot plate of pasta, and the restaurant’s menu has been getting great reviews from satisfied customers.
The restaurant was a collaboration of talent and ideas among two good friends, Tony Ji and YJ Ahn, the general manager of Astoria World Manor, located at 25-22 Astoria Blvd.
Throughout the pandemic, business waned: Weddings and other parties couldn’t take place due to closures, and later, the space dealt with reopening restrictions as the city navigated through COVID. Ahn cleared the space and was brainstorming different ideas when Ji pitched him on the concept of turning it into a restaurant.
“I thought it would have a really unique thing about the space because it was outdoors, but not so much,” Ji said. “And at the time, outdoor dining was the thing because of the pandemic, and then [Ahn] really liked the idea of turning the space into a restaurant.”
After Ji helped Ahn with deciding on a restaurant for the space, he suggested fresh pasta for the menu. They ended up collaborating with chef Christina Bartoli, who got involved after she responded to an ad for an experienced chef.
After tasting her dishes, the team decided that Bartoli was the perfect person to bring on board.
“My friend invited me over when they had their first tasting,” Ji said. “At the time, I wasn’t even part of the project; I was just giving advice as a friend. I came along for the tasting and they absolutely loved the chef, so that’s when I actually got really excited of what I could do with him, and [Ahn] told me he wanted to work with me. I didn’t have a restaurant background, but that’s something I always wanted to do.”
The team emphasizes fresh ingredients and Bartoli’s ever-creative mind in the kitchen. While some of the dishes are the typical Italian fare, Bartoli also likes to put new spins on classics. For example, Cornicello’s baked penni ziti alla vodka is layered and might look like a lasagna at first glance — until you sink your fork into it and taste the vodka sauce in the noticeably fresh pasta.
“Our chef is always in the kitchen trying to come up with something new,” Ji said. “She always tries to take what we have [in the kitchen] and make something so that people can get really excited for it.”
In addition to amazing entrees, Cornicello also has a pastry chef on hand who makes fresh and delicious desserts like tiramisu, ricotta doughnuts and oversized chocolate eclairs that are scented with orange and vanilla and oozing with cream.
With so many delicious options, it’s certainly worth it to stop by to see what Bartoli and her partners will come up with next.
“I think her food is unique in a way that’s really homey,” Ji said. “You kind of get the feel that you’re being fed by your grandma, but your grandma who knows how to take it and make it modern.”