>> Tuesday, June 23, 2009

70-49 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 261-1075

Ah, Father's Day. The caroling, the presents, the lights, the tree. But this year, Bro and I decided to do something new and unique. We decided to take the Rents (mom and dad) out to dinner. We decided that Italian was the way to go. But where? At last count, Forest Hills has only 12 Italian restaurants. With so few options and a storm rolling in, we went with the closest, Pasta del Giorno, on Austin Street.

Pasta del Giorno is an old-style Italian place with a menu that reminds me why I like Italian food. Sadly, while the simple interior, lined with wine racks and candles, is pleasant and warm, it has a follow-through which reminds me of why I don't eat it all that often. We were seated at a table with a stained tablecloth and no utensils or napkins. The menus were falling apart and we were never offered a wine list. The bread at the table was the soft, mushy supermarket kind and was served alongside breadsticks. That the breadsticks were still in the plastic wrap from the box was both funny and pitiful. Bro and I orderd a glass of wine each and ,while I'm no coinnesseur, I can spot a cheap glass of pinot from down the block.

Perhaps my standards are simply too high, but we weren't off to a good start.

The Rents went with soup starters. Dudeman (Dad) ordered Minestrone, a vegetable soup. Most minestrones that I've had have been tomato-based but this one was chicken broth-based. He wasn't particularly impressed. Shrink (Mom) flat out disliked it. Bro was indifferent. I thought that it was a thoroughly generic vegetable soup but had no issues with it. Shrink ordered the Lobster Bisque. She and Dudeman loved it. I did not. They liked the chunks of lobster (or perhaps "lobster" as I believe it be) and praised it throughout the meal. Bro ordered the Cannoli di Melanzane, eggplant, ricotta and parmesan cheese under a tomato sauce. This was quite good and everyone thought it pretty tasty. My appetizer was the Vongole ai Forno, six small baked clams with more breadcrumbs than clam. Is it worth mentioning that not all of the dishes arrived at the same time?

For dinner, Dudeman and Shrink both ordered veal dishes. Dudeman ordered the Scaloppine di Vitello al Barolo, veal sauteed in barolo wine with portobello mushrooms and spaghetti. I don't eat veal but he liked it fine and so did Shrink, although they wished that the wine sauce was left off the spaghetti. She preferred it to her dish, the Roast Veal Special, roast veal with risotto and mushrooms. While everyone who tried it seemed to like the risotto, the veal was chewy and was compared unfavorably to pot roast stew meat. Bro tried the Rigatone Ponte Vacchio, a rigatone dish with bacon, onion and peas in a "light pink sauce" (vodka sauce, I must assume). Pasta del Giorno might argue that the pasta was al dente, but I'm gonna go with undercooked. Aside from that and the fact that you could count the number of peas using just your fingers, the dish wasn't bad. Five more minutes in the pot would have done wonders though. My entree was Petti di Pollo alla Tuscana, a chicken dish with peas and sun-dried tomatoes in a creamy sherry sauce, served with spaghetti. This was pretty good. Bro thought that the sun-dried tomatoes could have been left out. I'm apathetic. Of all the food I tried that evening, I recommend this the most.

Dudeman and Shrink decided to skip dessert, but Bro and I did not. Bro ordered a Peach Sorbetti (sorbet) which he liked quite a bit. I decided to go with the Millefoglie, a cream pastry with almonds. Normally, the pastry is somewhat more formed and crafted than what I got. My millefoglie was two thick filo dough crusts with Cool-Whip and chocolate syrup separating them. It was collapsing in on itself in a half-assed sort of way, and while it wasn't "bad", it was, essentially, the physical embodiment of the entire meal. Half-assed and done on the cheap.

Four appetizers, four entrees, two glasses of wine, two iced teas, one coffee, one tea, one cappuccino, and two desserts, plus tax and tip came to just under $180.



>> Friday, June 19, 2009

UPDATE 3/12/12; Ariana's has CLOSED.
70-32 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 263-3094/3928

Ariana's is one of approximately 650 places to buy a slice of pizza in Forest Hills. Neither upscale like Nick's or Dee's, nor borderline fast food like A&J or the now-defunct Sorisi, nor attached to a regular full-scale restaurant like Portofino, Ariana's sits somewhere in the middle. The pizza it serves are of the standard red-sauce variety, but they have an actual menu full of things that people actually order. Usually, the extra stuff on a pizzeria menu is designed to make the proprietor feel like he's sharing grandma'a special pasta with the world even though it tastes like microwaved slop and there's probably a good reason that grandma isn't with us anymore. I wondered if that would be the case here.

I started my tasting of Ariana with a standard Plain Slice of pizza, since that's what 90% of the time people order. And it was damn good. The sauce was tangy and sweet, the crust thin and crisp, but not burned or soggy. I followed up my plain slice with a White Slice with Tomato. This was just okay. Well, better than okay, but not great. The problem I have with white slices is that they're too dry for my taste, but if you're into them, go nuts. Later on, I returned for a Mushroom Slice. Pretty good, too, but not the best I've ever had. Finally, I went for a Chicken Roll. I love chicken rolls and Ariana's wasn't bad, but there was no marinara sauce in the roll. Instead, it was served in a little cup to dip it in. Maybe you like that, but I'm not a fan. Specifically, I tend to eat pizza joint food on the go between point A and point B. And that renders dipping difficult at best. Still, Ariana offers up about a dozen varieties of pizza ready to be tossed in their oven at a moment's notice, most of which look mighty good.

Intending to sample some of Ariana's restaurant food, I returned. I tried two things (sorry, no pics), both of which were red sauce pasta dishes, both of which cost somewhere in the vicinity of $10. First, the Stuffed Shells. I won't lie and say that they were fantastically amazing, but they were pretty good, especially considering that I do not like stuffed shells (then why order it, you ask. I guess I like living on the edge.). Do I think that Ariana made these from scratch versus bought them and heated them up? Um... don't know, but at the time, I didn't much care. My second dinner there was with the Gnocchi Ariana, potato gnocchi in a red sauce. Now I love Gnocchi, and when it's done right, it's like eating perfection. I was not, in this case, eating perfection. Ariana's claims that it's in their special pasta sauce, but this tasted like any other marinara. The gnocchi were tough when they should be tender, bland where they should have taste. They were clearly frozen at some point before I got to them. I'm sure that people are rolling their eyes saying "what do you expect ordering entrees at t pizza place?" But that's sort of the point. If Ariana's fashions itself as a restaurant, which they do, then I expect more. This was mediocre and I don't think even worth the otherwise inexpensive price of ten dollars.

In conclusion, Ariana's pizza = great; Ariana's entrees (the pasta ones, anyway) = not so great.

Dinners should run you between $10 and $16 per plate. Tax and tip extra. Pizzas are the way to go though and expect to shell out $15 and $20 for a large pie depending on toppings.



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