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We know that Queens rules when it comes to diversity and quality in ethnic dining. We can take our tummies on a world tour any day of the week. However, when it comes to being cosseted in sumptuous surroundings while eating that terrific food, the options are undeniably less numerous. But if fine dining is what you’re looking for, we have just discovered Vetro, a nine-months-new restaurant in Howard Beach that really got our attention.
Vetro is a spin-off from Russo’s on the Bay, a Howard Beach institution for large, glitzy catered affairs. We were expecting mini-glitz at Vetro, and mini-glitz we got. But who can argue with slightly over the top Italianate décor when it is executed with quality fixtures and craftsmanship and includes lovely landscaping and a view of the bay? In the right sort of weather, outdoor dining is available.
Vetro’s impressive wine list of more than 300 bottles won them a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, conferred for “lists that offer a well-chosen selection of quality producers, along with a thematic match to the menu in both price and style.” On Wednesdays, they offer a special half-price wine list of a dozen or so bottles from their inventory. We snapped up a delightful Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2006 for a paltry $21. Their featured wine of the evening was a 2008 Gruner Veltliner 2008, a crisp light Austrian wine of which they offered extra generous complimentary pours around the table. Unfortunately, their less-than-well-prepped captain touted it to us as being German.
In addition to the regular menu, each week a different region of Italy is featured. Specialties of the region, which in this case was Calabria, are offered as a three- or five-course tasting, or can be ordered a la carte. Calabrian standouts were the bold flavors of peperocini alla Callabrese—cubanelle peppers pickled and stuffed with proscuitto, sopressada, caciovello and breadcrumbs — and pesce spada alla Bargnarese, grilled swordfish topped with capers. The moist swordfish was a study in how, with simplicity, perfection can be achieved.
The main menu intersperses familiar Italian crowd-pleasers with upscale culinary flights of fancy. Antipasto caldi, that Italian restaurant standard, shows imagination with the inclusion of zucchini rollatine, a triangle of sausage and artichoke pie and clams and shrimp oreganate. For something even more out of the ordinary, try lobster cappuccino, the ultimate luxury comfort food made with lobster, butter, shallots, cognac and steamed milk, served in a coffee cup. They doled out the lobster sparingly, but the flavor was magic all the same.
Gnocci ripieni, stuffed with beef, pork, veal and swiss chard in a sauce made with white truffle oil, were tender, resilient dumplings with a subtle yet lingering flavor. Like all the pastas on the menu, they can be ordered in appetizer- or entrée-sized portions
The two mains we honed in on were both winners. Pork osso bucco was a sumptuous soul satisfying dish of pork shanks in a rich sauce flavored with truffle oil over creamy mashed potatoes. Pollo scarpariello brought roasted chicken together with a vibrant blend of sausage, roast potatoes, mushrooms and peppers in a lemony wine sauce.
Desserts here are as much about visuals as flavor. Go for the mousse in the little dark chocolate cup. It’s sooo cute.
Credit for the deliciousness here goes to the very talented and creative chef Michael DeGeorgio, who earned his chops at the storied Il Corile of Little Italy. Time served there has inspired him to plan his own mini San Gennaro Festival on the roof of Vetro from Sept. 16-19, replete with all the associated goodies like zeppole. The festival will benefit the charity Angels on the Bay.
If Vetro has one impediment to being considered a truly elegant establishment, it’s the service. They are attentive and accommodating, but need more polish. We were asked if we wanted different glasses when we changed wines (they shouldn’t have asked). More than once our table was addressed as “youse,” as in, “Would youse like another bottle of wine?” Or maybe we just don’t speak Howard Beach.
The Bottom Line
Vetro is an ideal fine dining destination for a when you have something to celebrate, want to treat yourself well or just want to smell those ocean breezes.
164-49 Cross Bay Blvd.
Howard Beach, NY 11414
Price Range: Appetizers: $8-17, entrees: $19-40
Cuisine: Regional Italian tilted towards the south
Setting: Lavish and comfortable Italian with a view
Service: Solicitous, but rough around the edges
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily, Sunday brunch
Reservations: Recommended on weekends
Alcohol: Full bar
Music: In planning stages, ask
Credit Cards: All
Noise Level: Acceptable
Handicap Accessible: Yes
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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