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Sapori D'Ischia
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Sapori D’Ischia

A fettuccine worth traveling for.

ADDRESS: 55-15 37th Ave., near 56th St., Woodside. PHONE: (718) 446-1500
DINNER: Tues.-Sat., 5:30-11 p.m.; Sun., 3-10:30 p.m. Closed Mondays.
CUISINE  Regional Italian
VIBE  Charming market-restaurant
OCCASION  Destination dining; authentic Italian supper
DON’T-MISS DISH  Fettuccine al’Antonio; polenta-crusted tilapia
PRICE  Appetizers, $9.50-$14; entrees, $17-$26; desserts, $7
RESERVATIONS  Accepted

No ice. No tap water. No cheese on seafood dishes. No lemon peel in
espresso. These are just four of the “Ten Commandments” patrons must
abide by at Sapori d’Ischia, an Italian specialty market-restaurant in
an industrial section of Woodside, Queens. Try requesting butter for the bread; your server may return with a framed set of rules to review before attempting an order.

It
seems presumptuous for a wholesale store that peddles imported goods by
day to enforce such vigilant decrees of dining by night. Especially
when you may be seated against refrigerated shelves stocked with
cheeses. Before you protest, taste the signature fettuccine al’Antonio:
It’s an exalted rite of passage that should be their Eleventh
Commandment. Prosciutto-studded noodles get plunged into a pungent
wheel of Parmesan and coated with a hypnotic dose of white truffle oil.

This giant Parmesan wheel is as much a fixture in the dining
room as the artisanal pastas and canned tomatoes, which are supplied to
many of the city’s top restaurants. At night, votive candles spruce up
store shelves and live music fills the charming space. A weathered
mural of the port of Ischia, an island off Naples, hangs dutifully from the wall.

Father-and-son owners Franco and Antonio Galano, natives of Ischia, passionately embrace the authentic cuisine of Italy.
With its straightforward and boldly flavored cooking, this
eight-year-old eatery doesn’t so much clamor for your attention as
command it.

Octopus gets an unusually hearty treatment here: Charred baby
octopus is nestled in a rich stew of caper berries, cranberry beans and
radicchio. The crusty house bread should be used to mop up the
delectable pool of sauce that forms below this mix. A succulent braised
rabbit is flecked with peas, house-cured pancetta and slivers of
potato. Wide ribbons of pappardelle, slathered in a rustic ragu of hot
and sweet sausages, are nearly as gratifying.

While an
onslaught of new restaurants distract with gimmicks and overcomplicated
dishes, Sapori d’Ischia aims to satisfy and often succeeds. The
steadiness of the kitchen, run by co-chefs Roberto Villanueva (Jean Claude) and Daniele Barbos (Restaurant Regina Isabella), instills confidence in its diners.

But
what’s even more compelling than the simplicity of old-school classics
are the dashes of polish and creativity among the seafood dishes. A
polenta-crusted tilapia is enriched by a zesty marriage of red pepper
puree and a walnut parsley pesto. It gets an additional boost from a
garlicky fricassee of string beans and spinach. A monkfish is
delicately glazed in Pinot Grigio and draped over a lush hill of
truffle-scented escarole. The wine list has a fine selection of
boutique Italian producers with 15 varietals available by the glass.

Sapori
d’Ischia is not without its drawbacks. The brick oven pizzas were
repeatedly undercooked. Floppy crusts caved under the weight of their
toppings. I ran into a similar problem with gummy gnocchi. I could’ve
been eating raw dough. And though live opera music on Thursdays can
make this market feel romantic, it stifles conversation.

There’s
no celebrity chef in the kitchen or glossy furnishings, but there is
plenty to savor on the table. Even the olive oil claims distinction:
The olives are grown on the family’s groves in Italy. It doesn’t get
much more authentic than that.

 

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