98-04 Metropolitan Ave., Forest Hills
718-544-4223; Open Tuesday – Sunday
Authentic, affordable South East Asian flavors are not the only reason to head out to Queens for dinner. The city’s largest borough is also home to Il Poeta a sparkling gem of a Northern Italian newcomer to Forest Hills.
But it isn’t just because Queens hosts little more than a handful of haute-Italian restaurants that truly dazzle, which causes Il Poeta to shine so brightly. Elegant without pretense, Il Poeta features authentic Italian cuisine that is refined, inspired and thoughtfully inventive.
From the food, to the warm hospitality, to the subdued tasteful ambiance, eye-pleasing culinary presentations and fair pricing, the recently-opened, Il Poeta proves that it is an expert venture in the hospitality business. And no small wonder, since its personable chef Mario Di Chiara, has worked for Cipriani in Venice and New York. Di Chiara’s risottos have been the subject of effusive plaudits from noted food critics and dining guests alike.
My most recent visit to Il Poeta was with a largish party of friends and relatives (nine in toto) during the last holiday-frenzied weeks of December. The then barely three month old restaurant handled an evening of large-partied holiday madness with grace and agility.
Charming, couture-donning host Luca was proactive in helping the party choose an appropriate amount and balanced variety of appetizers and knowledgeably paired our varied pastas and fish and meat entrees with excellent, agreeably-priced wine selections.
The dinner started with savory assaggini of minced eggplant, mushroom and sun dried tomato bruschette. They were delicious and provided a delicious distraction from waiting for the arrival of the rest of our party. As part of our first course, Luca suggested for individual house salads for everyone. The artfully presented plates of greens consisted of fresh arugula, red leaf lettuce, radicchio, shredded carrots and elegantly surrounded by two seedless cucumber slices and ripe cherry tomatoes. The salads were dressed with a light lemon vinaigrette.
Every antipasto that followed was a hit. The dishes were solid, yet imaginitive and easily avoided the tired hot and cold antipasto formulas and combinations of many Italian or Italian American places, without sacrificing taste.
Cutting boards of beautiful, expertly-cured and varied charcuterie consisting of dark, lean and tender bresaola, thin wedges of mortadella, savory cacciatorini and smooth mild, delicate slices of Prosciutto Parma and a delicious assortment of Italian cheeses including Fontina and provolone were delivered to our table. These were accompanied by platters of Caprese salad made with light, fresh bufala mozzarella sidled by slices of sweet plum tomatoes, platters of fried calamari rings with baby squid and showstopping platters of hot, velvety polenta with melted taleggio cheese flanked by tender slices of speck (smoked prosciutto).
In spite of the fact that I, as well as half of the party at my table, was sated by the end of the appetizer course, I ordered the Tagliolini del Poeta, their signature pasta, which comes in a porcini mushroom sauce and speck. The subtle and aromatic sauce flavored the toothsome tagliolini thoroughly and triumphantly. The tagliolini were supple and creamy without any excess use of butter. Pairing it with the Pinot Grigio Stella proved to be an excellent suggestion as the wine had a crisp and subtle zestiness without any acidic aftertastes.
Although I had no stomach real estate left to proceed with any further courses, I could not help but sample some of the dishes ordered by my table companions. The richly satisfying Garganelli Salsiccia (sausage) e Radicchio and the linguine alle vongole are also excellent choices, and the Chilean sea bass special drizzled with olive oil and a light touch of lemon juice was deceptively simple but more than satisfying.
Although a member of my dinner party never received a vegetable substitution he requested, it was relieving to see that host Luca was able to rectify the situation. Il Poeta is a place I enthusiastically recommend for an enjoyable evening among friends or a romantic date.
Note: At $10.95, their weekday lunch specials, consisting of a house salad and a pasta is an awesome value and an absolute treat.