Giuseppe Viterale thought a pay-by-the-pound churras-caria would do well in the Queens neighborhood of Astoria. So he opened a Samba Grill on 23rd Avenue, near the Astoria-Ditmars stop of the N and W trains.
It turned out that location didn’t have enough foot traffic to support it, so last November he transformed it into Ornella, an Italian trattoria named after his wife, who is also the mother of their four children and the restaurant’s executive chef.
I ate there last night.
The restaurant’s publicist told me that many of the recipes come from Ornella’s family (except for the takeout items like, you know, veal Parmigiana and spaghetti carbonara), but Giuseppe has some influence, too. His father owned mills in an Italian village near Salerno, so he learned a lot about different kinds of flour. So he serves a pasta made with 75 percent chestnut flour (with cherry tomato and arugula in a garlic-oil sauce), and another one — pizzocheri della valtellina — with buckwheat flour, served with cabbage, potato and fontina cheese (it's a Lombardian dish).
The chestnut pasta dish is the one in the picture.
I also had some Nduja — pronounce it and you'll see that it’s a cousin of andouille — a spicy sausage of pork and veal from Calabria that Ornella serves as a pâté on bread — and, because I was in an Italian restaurant in New York City, after all, bruschetta with tomatoes and olive oil.
Then I had tilapia in cartoccio (prepared in an aluminum foil balloon along with clams and mussels etc.; to be broken open at the table so the diner can inhale the garlic-shellfish aroma), followed by a dessert sampler of an Italian sort of flan, cheesecake and chocolate cake.
But then Giuseppe was testing out the chestnut pasta with tuna bottarga and wanted me to check it out, too. So I did. The idea was to have that sharp fishiness of the bottarga contrast with the mild sweetness of the chestnuts.
I think it worked, but I can't say for sure because I’d just had chocolate cake.
What can I say? It’s part of my job.