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Italian eatery proud of old-world customs

Paccheri alla Trasteverino is just one of the traditional dishes offered in La Vigna's warm and welcoming setting. Photo by Steve Mosco
TimesLedger Newspapers

Many neighborhoods in Queens boast their own restaurant row — a stretch of eclectic dining options ranging from the very elegant to the comfortably casual.

Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills is one of those spots offering a growing collection of dining decisions to both out-of-towners and neighborhood regulars. La Vigna, at 100-11 Metropolitan Ave. for the past decade, boasts homespun cuisine prepared with a passionate flare by its chef and owner, Giuseppe Vitale.

Born in Naples, Italy, the chef brings old-world ideals to the Queens restaurant scene — combining the ingredients of traditional home cooking with a sophisticated touch for the discerning eater.

“When people come in here, I want them to leave happy,” said Vitale, who began his career as a chef working for the matriarch of Italian cooking, Lidia Bastianich. “People come in, they take their time, they enjoy the food. There is no rush here.”

That concept of good food taking time is the driving force behind La Vigna’s philosophy and the main ingredient to its success. Vitale cuts no corners at his restaurant. The chef believes owning a restaurant gives him the license to run it as he sees fit. This means offering customers where possible the freshest ingredients and making them in house where feasible.

Many of the pastas are made daily by hand. The chef said fresh pasta tends to yield to flavors more readily and offer a far more pleasing texture than the dried variety. For some of the dishes, the chef also makes his own fresh mozzarella, and the creamy quality stands out in an unmatched mouth feel.

Vitale’s homemade mozzarella makes an appearance in the paccheri alla trasteverino, featuring tube-shaped pasta with eggplant, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and basil. One of the chef’s homemade pasta dishes is the cavatelli con briciole di salsiccia, with bits of sausage and zucchini.

Other standout dishes include the veal saltimbocca and the stuffed calamari appetizer.

But there is much to choose from at La Vigna, with daily specials making any decision a difficult one.

Two diners eating together, Mike Costanzo and Theresa Barringer, both of Howard Beach, said they have been coming to La Vigna since it first opened and there is always a new dish catching their eye.

“The specials are really special,” said Costanzo. “Everything is done right, but it’s the people who work here and the hospitality that really stands out.”

The importance of hospitality is immediately evident at La Vigna. Waiters greet diners with warm, welcoming smiles and pleasant conversations that go far deeper than monotone readings of the wine list. Many customers know the staff on a first-name basis, which creates an atmosphere that even makes first timers feel comfortable.

The chef’s son and La Vigna manager, Anthony Vitale, grew up with Forest Hills as his second home and sees many of his customers while he is out at local stores purchasing supplies for the restaurant. Customers even give him a good-natured ribbing about his lack of professional attire — a spectacle adding to the feeling that this is a pleasant meal shared around the family dining room table.

“To run a restaurant you need a passion for cooking, but also a passion for pleasing the customers,” he said. “You will not survive in this business if you are just going through the motions.”

La Vigna offers seasonal food with an autumn menu on its way. Reservations are suggested and the restaurant is available for private parties and catering. Call 718-268-4264, e-mail anthonyvitale@lavignany.com or visit lavignany.com. La Vigna is open Monday through Thursday from noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon to 11 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 10 p.m.

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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