As much as I adore living in Manhattan, I am often miffed by the bevy of “borough bigots” running around our insolent little island of ours. For most people living between the Hudson and East rivers, traveling to the outer boroughs is a promising proposition that usually gets the kybosh when more seemingly logical thought prevails. While many myopic “Manhattanites” love to recognize the chic, bohemian “coolness” of living in an up and coming part of Brooklyn, or appreciate the intriguing diversity of Queens, they seem to lack any desire to actually see these social settings with their own eyes. As the Ubereater, this bothers me to no end and begs the question: How can the people of Manhattan, so proud and self-aware of their high-end sensibilities and storied ethnic roots, be so utterly oblivious to their culinary surroundings? I wish I could tell you.
Nevertheless, in need of a break from the suffocating stench of self-importance that pervades our city’s eateries, I hopped the elusive N train on a mission to the outer limits, of New York City that is. I embarked upon a journey that would carry me into the dark underbelly of Midtown, drag me through the murky depths of the East River before ultimately spitting me out onto the crackling elevated tracks overlooking the dated streets of Long Island City. As I watched the illuminated wall of 5th avenue high-rises slowly fade into the distance, I realized I had successfully escaped the grasp of the big city, for a more “cultured”, budget-friendly environment. I had landed in Astoria, on my way to one of the best Italian restaurants in all of Queens, Trattoria L’incontro.
In a neighborhood that will probably always be known for its thriving Greek heritage and ever-expanding diversity, Trattoria L’incontro remains THE spot in Queens for svelte, uplifting Italian fare in a comfortable family atmosphere. Family-owned and operated since 1999, L’incontro very much wears its heart on its sleeve. Large painted murals of the Italian countryside (don’t worry they’re tasteful) make the large dimly-lit dining room warm and endearing. At 6 pm, we were greeted by a bustling dining room and a jovial man by the name of Vincenzo who ran the front of the house as if it here his own.
Once seated, we noshed on warm flatbread with a peppy sun-dried tomato paste that was hard to resist. Our server too was jocund, upbeat, and quite happy to be there, quickly explaining that at Trattoria L’incontro, it’s all about the specials. Essentially, there are two menus, the regular menu featuring more traditional fare (think Chicken Parm) and then the specials, 41 to be exact, all of which are recited out loud from memory by the waiter. The specials are seasonal and include a wide array of appetizers, homemade pasta preparations, and various “Secondi” of fish, chicken and red meat. When the server fielded Meghan’s automatic inquiry about the pesto, he candidly replied, “I think you’d be disappointed.” Given his honest input (which was much appreciated), we went with his recommendation and stuck to the specials. Besides, I’m tired of seeing Meghan order pesto all the time…boring!
My salad was a toothsome mixture of bitter radicchio, orange wedges, and pomegranate seeds tossed gently in a sweet and tangy honey vinaigrette that was just right. This salad was so balanced in flavor that Meghan, notorious for snooting at bitter foods in general, forced me to give her half of what was on my plate! These aggressive table tactics were unexpected, yet much respected, leaving me with no choice but to oblige.
Before we had time to squabble over what little radicchio remained, our entrées had arrived. Meghan’s Chicken Paillard was pounded thin, crusted with a layer of finely chopped pignoli nuts, and quickly sautéed until golden brown. The tender meat was topped with a roughly chopped medley of plum tomato, onion, and avocado, then finished with a touch of balsamic vinegar. My Rigatoni Veal Ragu was hearty, bold and delicately constructed. Meat ragus can be overpowering and easily weigh down a dish, but Chef Rocco Sacramone’s creation was dead on. His gravy packed a punch of rich flavor without submerging the rigatoni in an overabundance of ground veal that can sometimes add a “grainy” aspect to the dish. Not here! The firm homemade rigatoni held up well to heavy grasp of the thick, slow-cooked meat sauce, right up until the very last bite.
Pleased with our meal and feeling good on a Friday night, we wrapped things up with a chestnut gelato dessert that was tasty, but probably ultimately unnecessary. (When is dessert really necessary though?) What WAS necessary (and always will be) was my double espresso that is the perfect way to end any meal in my opinion.
Trattoria L’incontro was the breath of fresh air I needed to help me regain my bearings from the dizzying dining scene of the City. This neighborhood gem is a far cry from the City’s many over-decorated, disinterested “closet-raunts” that seem to be solely in the business of turning tables and gouging profits. On the contrary, it was refreshing and promising to witness Vincenzo and company’s affinity for truly caring about satisfying the customers. Their pleasantries were genuine and consistent, to the point of being almost tangible. I was thoroughly impressed.
As far as I’m concerned, my inaugural mission into the outer boroughs was a complete success. This trek to Trattoria L’incontro was a wonderful reminder that beyond the Manhattan’s bubble of brusque service and complicated food, there still remains a flourishing yet humble culinary landscape that hasn’t lost its way.
Put $4 in your pocket, block out a couple hours, and go see for yourself.
Food: - A
Ambiance - A
Service – A+ (Truly wonderful staff that really enjoyed satisfying our needs)
Experience in a thought: "The 25 minute ride on the Subway is a small price to pay to be appreciated as a customer.”
21-76 31st St
Astoria, NY 11105-2602
Phone: (718) 721-3532