>> Sunday, May 2, 2010

98-04 Metropolitan Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 544-4223

Il Poeta is the latest Italian to open its doors on Metropolitan Avenue. To say it has competition is like saying that Honda has competition in the minivan market. There are seven Italian places on Metropolitan Avenue alone, with at least a half dozen more on Austin and Queens Boulevard. We here in Forest Hills are drowning in Italian food, and my experience thus far, as you've no doubt read, has been severely wanting. I suffer from Italian restaurant fatigue. I just want to throw my hand to the sky and say "That's it! I'm getting Boston Market!"

But I had high hopes. The guys who run the best liquor store in the area, The Wine Room of Forest Hills, on 69th Avenue, spent about five solid minutes touting the place. I was sure it was because they supplied Il Poeta their vino, but hey, that's a good thing. I'll say this, Il Poeta has a decent wine list. It's not quite at the level of Danny Brown, but you won't find any Ecco Domani bulk crap either. The menu is also atypical for Italian in the area. The menu is small, instead of being a twelve page long book. There's no red sauce slop that came from an expired Ragu jar and no soft noodles that may lead your mind to wonder if the last place the chef plied his trade was at an institutional soup kitchen.

Il Poeta is very much an Italian bistro. It's small, it's decorations aren't ostentatious, the music is dim, and most importantly, they don't play Frank Sinatra or any of the other Rat Packers. Indeed, playing Rat Packer songs virtually guarantees that you'll ruin my meal. Il Poeta's crowd ran the gamut from old to young, families to couples, people out with their work friends to me and Bro. It's an intimate place, but not overly romantic. Perhaps the lights are too bright. The worst thing about the interior are the curtains over the windows. On at least three occasions I passed up eating here for another restaurant because I couldn't see inside and didn't want to be at the only occupied table. I understand that the view from inside is of a McDonalds drive-through, but I seriously think that blocking passers-by from seeing how popular you are is a huge mistake, financially.

Bro and I ate here twice in the span of a week. Both meals were very good without being fantastic. Still, of all the Italian restaurants I've reviewed in Forest Hills so far, Il Poeta is the best by miles. Fresh bread was placed on the table with a tapenade spread to smear atop it. Day one was mushroom spread, day two was a bean version. The bean one was insanely good. No cheapo foil butter packets are offered.

Of the starters, bro ordered a salad, something I'll never do. The Insalata Tricolore Con Formaggio Di Capra, a simple simple simple salad of arugula, endive and radicchio with crusted goat cheese. There was no dressing or vinaigrette, which bro felt it could have used, but only because there just wasn't enough of the goat cheese. The cheese worked well with the salad, but they should have given it three times as much. I decided to try some soups. On the first trip, I ordered their Potato Leek Soup. It was quite good, albeit a bit heavy on the salt. Unlike most potato leek soups, this was a puree and looked exactly the way a split pea soup would look. There were no chunks of potato or shreds of leek, but there were a few croutons for some added texture. As someone who doesn't really care for croutons one way or the other, these were fantastic. My second soup was the Pasta Fagioli, a pasta-bean soup. Like the Potato Leek soup, it was bisque styled with a thick and rich, smooth texture. This time, however, pasta and beans added some depth that the potato leek lacked. The soup was extremely good.

Bro and I ended up trying three pastas and one meat entree. This was mostly because of Il Poeta's expense. First, the Garganelli Al Ragu D'Anatra, a simple pasta dish in a sauce of mushroom and shredded duck. The pasta was quite al dente. Those used to the soggy soup-kitchen pasta of the Family Restaurant ilk may be disappointed, but I was taught that this is pretty much the way pasta's supposed to be served. If you can't pick the noodle up with a chopstick without it being squeezed out back onto the plate or fired like a bullet across the table, then it's overcooked. However, I did feel that the duck itself was on the bland side. A few more spices would have made a world of difference. We also tried the Penne Al Salmone Affunicato, penne pasta with smoked salmon and asparagus in a light pink (vodka) sauce. Again, the pasta was al dente. I preferred this dish over the previous one, but since Bro ordered it, I was only able to steal so much. I'm not much one for pasta with salmon, and think that chicken or thin strips of beef would have been better, but this worked well, too.

The Gnocchi Di Patate In Salsa Leggera Di Gorgonzola E Rugola Selvatica is Il Poeta's gnocchi dish. As a guy who loves his gnocchi, it's hard for me to pass up a chance to order new renditions of it. Il Poeta makes their gnocchi like small little oval balls, unlike Uvarara's ginormous ones. The Gorgonzola cheese is very smokey and bitter, like blue or Roquefort, so if you don't like that flavor, you won't like this. It came topped with walnuts (but could use more walnuts) and arugula. Bro was a huge fan, but in spite of what looks like a small amount, it's very heavy and about a third of it had to be taken home. The only meat entree we tried was the Petto Di Pollo In Crosta Di Parmigiano, a tender chicken dish with a Parmesan coating under a lemon white wine sauce with a side of the smoothest mashed potatoes I've ever had. Was the chicken good? Yeah. Was it great? No. The sauce was too tart for me and there was too much of it. I also think that the plate was in desperate need of some dark greens like spinach or Swiss chard. Something rough to help soak up the sauce. Still, I can't avoid recommending it.

For dessert, Bro ordered the Napoleon Cake, a crisp filo dough sandwich filled with strawberries and cream and topped with more powdered sugar than a beignet. My choice was the Panna Cotta. I really like panna cotta and Il Poeta's was no exception, with a strong "but". It was very good BUT they needlessly drowned it in chocolate syrup. It was fine on its own. If you order it, ask for it with a swirl of chocolate (if any) next to the strawberry syrup underneath it and leave it topped with nothing more than a sliced strawberry. Then it would have been perfect. We also ordered a handful of coffees before proceeding to Manor Oktoberfest for a couple liters of beer.

Appetizers are average $10, pasta dishes average $17, and entrees average $22. So expect to spend no less than $50 per person when you factor in tax and tip.


Wayno2424 May 3, 2010 at 11:51 AM  

Best Italian restaurant u have reviewed????? What about Dee's? Better than that? I highly doubt it but will try this restaurant soon to verify.

Jon Parker May 3, 2010 at 11:59 AM  

Dees is more of a varietous Mediterranean mix than it is "Italian".

Wayno2424 May 4, 2010 at 10:04 AM  

Point taken, Dee's is hard to fit into a category and really isn't an Italian restaurant despite the pizza oven

Wayno2424,  August 20, 2010 at 12:09 PM  

That was some damn good Italian!! Got the risotto special, yummy and parmesean crusted chicken along with some figs. YUMMY!!!!!!!

Only half the place was filled with many people who seemed to be regulars and although they spent as much as 15 minutes a time with some tables neither of the brothers who own the place even bothered to say a word to myself or my wife until I was literally half way out the door after a long ass meal.

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