Obicà

When I visited Italy many moons ago, I toured with a diverse group of people from the Union County area. We went all over the country—Rome, the Amalfi Coast, Capri—but what stands out to me the most is our visit to the Campania Region. We went to a mozzarella and ricotta factory there, where we sampled the creamiest and most flavorful mozzarella I’ve ever had.

obica housemade bread

housemade bread

With a new location in Flatiron, Obicà claims to source their mozzarella from Campania several times a week. Upon learning this, I rushed to make a reservation at the brand new restaurant in order to try their cheese as soon as possible. I regret to inform you that Obicà did not live up to my expectations one bit.

The place was packed on Friday night. I suppose that’s no surprise since the joint only opened the beginning of last week and they already have one location in the city that has received some acclaim. The dark interior was off-putting, but was made up for by all the restaurant personnel exclaiming “buona sera” as we entered. This restaurant must be authentic, I thought.

obica burrata salad

burrata salad

I was wrong. The only saving grace of Obicà is their bread, which is made in-house (and is, I’ll note here, free). The olive kind is forgettable, but the mild-flavored focaccia and the crusty, chewy Italian bread are winners in my book. Too bad the rest of the food, which is fairly expensive, paled in comparison.

We started with the burrata salad, which comes with beets, string beans and pine nuts. I definitely enjoyed the pine nuts, but the burrata itself left something to be desired. Plain and simple: It did not taste like anything. Good mozzarella (and burrata, for that matter) is slightly salty and creamy and should register as “divine” to your taste buds. This did not. Disappointment number one.

MDP got the lasagna, which was served partially cold, so I’m not even going to mention what it was like or what it came with. Massive fail. Disappointment number two.

obica pizza

pizza

I ordered the salsiccia e friarielli pizza. The crust was delicious. Obicà uses PETRA flour and lets the dough rise for 48 hours. I think this makes a difference. But the toppings were not very good. The sausage was not flavorful and the broccoli rabe (rapini, according to their “authentic” menu) didn’t have the same punch it usually has. Disappoinment number three.

We didn’t stick around to check out their dessert menu, since we figured we were already paying a boatload for a dinner neither one of us enjoyed. Why add to the disappointment? We paid and went across the street to Maison Kayser, which is decent but not a place I’d recommend either.

If you’re looking for excellent burrata, go to Palma. If you want fantastic pizza, go to Emporio.

Obicà

928 Broadway

Flatiron, New York

Take the N/R to 23rd Street and walk south a few blocks.

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Venturo Osteria and Wine Bar

Sunnyside’s Queens Boulevard is definitely for the up-and-coming. Pink Icing bakery is going strong. Salt and Fat has made a huge splash on the New York food scene. And now we have Venturo Osteria and Wine Bar, whose pedigree promises great things. The question is, does it live up to its promise?

venturo three-cheese plate

three-cheese plate

Located in a newly renovated space, Venturo takes the place of an old French restaurant called Tapenade, which was never right for the neighborhood. The service wasn’t with it and the food was just so-so, at a higher price point than anyone likely wanted to pay. So, when I read about an Italian restaurant owned by a seasoned restaurateur replacing Tapenade, I was excited—thrilled, even.

We went to Venturo with high hopes, and the place mostly lived up to them, but I have a few issues with the food (and service).

To start, we opted for the three-cheese plate with mozzarella, primo sale and ricotta. Legend is that Venturo makes its own cheese, bread and pasta—all of which are very good, I assure you, though the bread that was served to us was over salted. You can order these cheeses separately, of course, but we wanted the full Venturo experience so we ordered the flight. The mozzarella came with a sun gold tomato salad; the primo sale was covered in a salty, delicious olive tapenade; and the ricotta featured drizzled pistachio oil on top. Of the three, the clear winner was the primo sale, which was soft, dense and creamy and unlike any cheese I’ve ever had before. The mozzarella was very good, too, but not as flavorful as Palma’s, and the ricotta was looser than what I’m accustomed to. If you’re going to try one, get the primo sale.

venturo fettuccine

fettuccine

The menu is limited at Venturo, and there was some speculation by MDP that they possibly rotate their dishes depending upon the season or ingredient availability. I hope this is the case. They have three pastas on the menu, three entrees and two group dinners listed for people to sample.

I opted for the fettuccine, which was supposedly with pistachios, orange zest, parsley, black pepper and ricotta béchamel. The béchamel was definitely delicious, but the dish was overpowered by the inclusion of the black pepper. I ate it all—naturally—but was disappointed that the slightest hint of orange zest didn’t come through.

MDP ordered the pork shoulder milanese. Venturo takes an interesting approach to milanese. Like most places, they include a salad on top of the featured meat, but Venturo decided to put citrus fruits in the salad. MDP was delighted by this, though, if it was me, I would have been upset, as I am not fond of citrus. I tried MDP’s finely breaded pork shoulder cutlet and, while it was fairly delicious, it was clearly tough, possibly as a result of being overcooked.

venturo baby jesus cake

baby jesus cake

We knew we had to order dessert, so we got the baby Jesus cake, which is something I’m struggling to describe. It was unlike the king cake I’ve had in the past, which is presumably what they were angling for when they called the dish baby Jesus cake. It was dense and brown, and unappetizing to look at, but doused in a warm toffee sauce with a dollop of whipped cream. It ended up being somewhat delectable, but I’d probably order something else next time. (Venturo has about four dishes on their dessert menu.) I ordered a cappuccino and that was fantastic.

All in all, the food was pretty decent, but there’s definitely room for improvement. The service was slow and a little bit disorganized. One time, one guy would come over to our table; then, a woman would serve us. It was like, who’s my waiter?

I wouldn’t call Venturo a destination restaurant, unlike Palma. But it is definitely a good thing for the neighborhood and I wish it the very best.

Venturo Osteria and Wine Bar

44-07 Queens Boulevard (between 44th and 45th streets)

Sunnyside, NY

Take the 7 to 46th Street and walk east a few blocks on Queens Boulevard.

Palma

Situated down on Cornelia Street, on a long, lonely block, Palma awaits you. It’s cute, brief exterior belies the wonder found within.

palma mozzarella di bufala insalata

mozzarella di bufala insalata

Palma sells Italian specialties, and you know how I feel about Italian food from Italian restaurants. That is, I typically do not like it. But Palma is the rare exception to the rule, so I implore you: go to Palma.

My Lady Dining Partner (MLDP) and I walked into Palma to find a crowded interior with people bustling around a small bar. We were seated at a table for two in close proximity to both the window and the tables around us. MLDP squeezed her pregnant body into the chair and we were at last comfortable in our own little world.

We ordered the mozzarella di bufala insalata, which was served with olive-oil drizzled arugula and hearty slices of tomato. I have never had such good mozzarella. It was creamy and dense, and altogether fantastic. On the specials list—and I get the feeling this is a daily special—there was a burrata option, which tempted us, but we ultimately chose the mozzarella on the menu. You won’t be disappointed if you opt for this.

palma pappardelle dish

pappardelle dish

For our entrees, we both ordered pasta dishes off the regular menu. I got the pappardelle allo spezzatino d’Agnello—a long name for a fine dish, which contained long, wide ribbons of pasta with slow-cooked lamb, tomatoes, and kalamata olives thrown in. The salty flavor of the olives nicely complemented the richness of the lamb. It was incredible. MLDP ordered the fettuccine ai funghi, which had the most delicious mushrooms I have ever eaten. They were tender and rich with flavor. I only took a bite of her mushroom pate, but the pasta itself—which must be homemade, to be so glorious—looked amazing.

We passed on dessert, although Palma has a few Italian delicacies on their sweets menu, such as a bufala ricotta cheesecake. It must be heavenly.

I can’t wait to go back to Palma, and I think you should go, too. I highly recommend the pasta, and am certain the secondi dishes live up to Palma’s pledge for well-crafted food.

Palma

28 Cornelia Street

West Village, New York

Take the A/B/C/D/E/F/M to West 4th Street and walk around the corner to Cornelia Street.

Sauce

I had heard about Sauce on one of the food blogs I read. My first thought about it was “If it’s truly an Italian restaurant, why isn’t it called ‘Gravy’?” Once I got to Sauce and tried their menu, I understood exactly why it wasn’t called Gravy. Sauce, in fact, isn’t very Italian at all.

sauce avocado salad

avocado salad

Located on Rivington and Allen, Sauce has a fairly hip location, and its interior clearly reaches for that certain, exclusive feeling. Dim rooms with tiny wooden tables and chairs situated too close together fill the joint. MDP asked, “Why’d they give us this table?” which was located just steps away from the restrooms and kitchen (which, reflecting upon the layout, probably shouldn’t be so close together). “I don’t know,” I replied. “But it’s better than that one.” I gestured to a lone table in the midst of several other tables that would have been impossible to maneuver behind.

If you look online at Sauce’s website, their menu is basically illegible. It’s impossible to know what description goes with what dish and so on. At the restaurant itself, the menu is much more clear. We were presented a thick list of specials–which seems odd to me. Why not put more on the regular menu instead of having so many specials each night? I digress–and selected the avocado salad off that menu for our appetizer. Initially, I had thought that we would get their garlic bread, sold by the piece (another oddity), but they fed us delicate slices of bread and vegetables soaked in olive oil when we sat down.

The avocado salad was a bowl filled with chopped iceberg lettuce with a can of corn kernels and slices of tomato dropped on top, and one half of an avocado carelessly placed on one side of the dish. I enjoyed the salad, although I wish they had included more avocado. A light, barely perceptible vinaigrette coated the salad mixings. I was so hungry at the time that I wolfed down my portion of the salad in no time.

sauce chicken parmigiana

chicken parmigiana

For my entree, I opted for the chicken parmigiana because, I figured, even non-Italian restaurants can get that right. MDP got the gnocchi alla sorrentina, which is just gnocchi with melted mozzarella on top.

My chicken parmigiana was fine. The chicken itself was tender and easy to cut through, but they put way too much of their eponymous sauce on the chicken and not enough mozzarella. The ratio was off. In addition, they offered me a side of homemade spaghetti, which was voluminous and dense, with ample amounts of their sauce on top–but no spoon to eat it with. Also, there wasn’t any parmesan cheese on the table for my dish. They just put some on top of the spaghetti at their own discretion. These hints clued me into the fact that Sauce is not entirely authentic.

MDP’s gnocchi came out in a very tiny dish. They were spinach gnocchi and he commented that they were just okay. He didn’t like the sauce either.

I wouldn’t recommend Sauce. As I said, any Italian restaurant that even hints at the stuff that you put on spaghetti should be called Gravy. That’s the Italian way.

You know I don’t like Italian restaurants (because I find I can make the dishes better at home), so take my review for what it’s worth. Maybe Sauce doesn’t want to be authentic, who knows. All I know is that I’m not going back there.

Sauce

78 Rivington Street

Lower East Side, NY

Take the F/M to Delancey/Essex, walk up to Rivington then left.

Sapori d’Ischia, Woodside

To say Sapori d’Ischia is in the middle-of-nowhere is an understatement. Off the 61st Street subway station, one must walk several blocks north and several blocks east to find this restaurant. Is it worth the walk? Sure, the food’s good, but the service could be better.

Last time we went to Sapori d’Ischia, we had a Groupon. This time, we also had a Groupon. I had made a reservation for our table earlier in the day. When we arrived, the waiter referred to us as “regolare” but the owner (I think) offered us a non-regolare table fit for four. I put the Groupon on the booth next to me, buried next to my purse.

“Is that a coupon of some kind that you have there?” he asked, peering into my business.

“Oh, yes, it is,” handing him the Groupon.

He looked me dead in the eye. “You have to present this when you come in, before you are seated,” he informed me.

“Okay, we’ll do that next time,” I said, stunned by his reprimand.

Does the Groupon negate the reservation? I wondered.

Once the Groupon inquisition was put to rest, we ordered our food and had a fine time, though the waiter was brusque, at best, for the remainder of the evening.

For an appetizer, we got the Budino al Carciofi: pureed artichoke meat with roasted red peppers and chopped bits of pancetta. It was delicious. The green, very-artichoke flavor nicely complemented the texture of the roasted red peppers.

On the table, the waiter put bread and olive oil with olives. The olive oil was thick and flavorful. The bread was crusty on the outside and delicate on the inside–exactly as it should be.

For entrees, we ordered the Fettuccine al’Antonio and the Nonna Maria Gnocchi. Sapori d’Ischia is known for the fettuccine dish: a bowl full of noodles tossed in a light white sauce that are then smothered in a parmigiano-reggiano wheel. The result is creamy, cheesy, and divine. The gnocchi, small in portion, were accompanied by lobster and truffles. The cream base made the dish rich, but there could have been a few more gnocchi to absorb the sauce.

Dessert was extremely delicious, as well. We ordered the banana caramelized Nutella bruschetta. My dining partner and I envisioned bread as the base of this dish, but we were both wrong. A whole banana lay on a smudge of Nutella with caramelized sugar and chocolate sauce on top, paired with a dollop of vanilla gelato. Mmm.

During the day, Sapori d’Ischia is a wholesale market, purveying fine Italian goods. Once, we bought bread, cheese, and olive oil–all three delighted our senses.

Sapori d’Ischia

55-15 37th Avenue (near 56th Street)

Woodside, Queens

Take the 7 to 61st Street, then walk.