Foodie Phenom: Trattoria L’Incontro
Chef/owner Rocco Sacramone of Trattoria “L’Incontro in Astoria at work building a masterpiece in the kitchen as he does six days a week in his restaurant located on 31st street just north of Ditmars. Tribune Photo by Ira Cohen
By Michael Schenkler
There are a handful of remarkable restaurants that one gets to experience even when driven by a passion to try new dining establishments in search of the different and the best, as I am.
Astoria’s Trattoria L’Incontro is not so very different from a number of the absolutely finest Italian eateries in the metro area (read Manhattan and North Shore Long Island); however, it is clearly among the best - with perhaps with the most talented kitchen in Queens. Its food has been rated a “27” by Zagat’s - unsurpassed on our side of the East River.
It has become Astoria’s “in” place, attracting people from Port Washington to Manhattan - I encountered people I knew from both on a recent visit. But for the locals, it is the center of the political and business buzz. On a recent luncheon visit, when I dined with Pete Jr. and Paul Vallone, Assemblyman Mike Gianaris was there - he was finalizing details for a political fundraiser - Gianaris is running for NYS Attorney General.
Quite a few impressive business owners shared the casual but refined dining room with us. We’re also told that Senator Chuck Schumer makes L’Incontro a regular stop on the way to the LaGuardia-DC Shuttle to pick up his favorite dish - grilled octopus. Council Speaker Giff Miller and wife have made the trip from Manhattan. And Senator Hillary Clinton has also held a fundraiser there. Now, all of that should be enough to justify a foodie write-up on a political page.
But the real reason that L’Incontro is getting the space on this page is their food.
On a recent visit Rocco Sacramone, the owner chef, came over to greet us as soon as our party arrived and promised to send out a sampling of what he was brewing up in the kitchen - rigatoni with veal ragout, pancetta and marscapone cheese - his interpretation of some of the best of the Abruzzo region of Italy. I topped mine with some freshly grated parmesan and absolutely delighted in the first pasta I’ve had since beginning South Beach a year ago. It was worth cheating.
After drink orders from an extensive wine list - no alcohol - the show began: the waiter, without reference to notes, rattled off the specials - a dozen appetizers and many more than a dozen entrees - each sounding more appealing than the one before. Some were standard fare with a touch of a new fanciful ingredient, others creative culinary works, and still others Italian masterpieces made the way grandma made them - not my grandma.
I couldn’t keep pace with the waiter who enjoyed every second as he described the delightful dishes; but what follows are a few which I believe closely approximate the specials of that day.
Appetizers: zucchini blossoms with melted fontina cheese; tomato and mozzarella salad; salmon carpacchio; tuna carpacchio; stuffed sardines.
Entrees: ravioli filled with veal & filet mignon; rigatoni w. veal ragout & pancetta; orchieto w. cabbage, sausage & truffle oil; stuffed pork chop; a remarkable-sounding venison special; likewise, ostrich; a Dover sole beautifully built and presented; stuffed grouper; black sea bass; and veal paillard, which was perfectly grilled and topped with chopped salad greens - a touch of balsamic vinegar and it was memorable.
Mike Gianaris, who represents the area in the Assembly, tells me his favorite dish - although he tries not to order it too often attempting to maintain some semblance of a diet - is their four-cheese risotto and adds, “the oven-baked bread and sun-dried tomato spread that is on the table to begin a meal is also to die for.”
Gianaris notes: “What I like about L’Incontro, is the incredibly good food - I would feel comfortable ordering anything at the place and expect it to be outstanding - combined with a super-friendly and community-oriented staff. I feel very much at home whenever I am there and have never had a bad experience in dozens and dozens of visits.”
The area’s Councilman, Peter Vallone, Jr., who introduced me to Trattoria L’Incontro, loves the black sea bass with olives, capers and roasted peppers in a tomato- based sauce, and always start with an arugula salad with pears and gorgonzola cheese. He also forced me to share a wonderful fig and parmesan appetizer with him on our last visit.
I’ve now been there a half a dozen times - even bringing a Brooklyn newspaper publisher who likes to eat, to show off Queens’ best. My mostly lunchtime business visits mandated a weekend night back with Lil and friends which was just as memorable.
On each visit, I walked away knowing this was a top of the list Queens winner: incomparable food, impeccable service and timing and friendly, relaxed atmosphere. We don’t generally do reviews in this space - but on occasion, we want to share wonderful dining experiences. Trattoria L’Incontro ranks up there with the best.
With appetizers in the $10 range, pasta dishes averaging $16 and entrees from $15 up - many in the high $20’s - Trattoria L’Incontro is not an inexpensive neighborhood Italian place.
It’s pretty clear, watching the skilled waiters and sophisticated crowd, that L’Incontro’s secret to success is repeat customers. The reason is quite simple - once you’ve tried it, you’ll be back.
See you there.
Italian food with a flair
21-76 31st St., Astoria
Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday thru Sunday.
Valet parking available.