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Da Giorgio Ristorante – A Local Gem

dagiorgioFall was in the air as I parked at The North Ridge Shopping Strip at Quaker Ridge Road and North Avenue. Cosi is at one end and Harmon at the other, and tucked in the middle is a little gem of an Italian restaurant, the not to be missed, Da Giorgio Ristorante. Owned by Chef Giorgio Giacinto, it is named for his father. His parents and mentors, have their roots in Calabria, and young Giorgio grew up learning all the facets of Calabrian cooking in their catering business. His interest in the culinary arts as a young boy, led him to The New York Restaurant School. He always dreamed of opening a restaurant of his own. He gained more experience when he visited Italy and worked in the kitchens of many notable chefs for two years. "I learned that consistency is very important, as is respect for your ingredients. I love preparing fish which I purchase at Cosenza Fish Market on Arthur Avenue in The Bronx. My most important kitchen tools are my pasta machine, my cheese grater and, of course, my hands. Given the opportunity, I would love to prepare a meal for all of my Italian aunts and uncles who welcomed me into their homes when I lived in Italy."

The simple long narrow dining room at Da Giorgio seats 47 guests. A gold toned tin ceiling, traditional sconces along the walls, a peaceful mural and several posters add interest to the room and most notable is the blackboard of daily specials, of which there are many.

At many restaurants that we visit, our purpose is simply to eat. foodpictureAt Da Giorgio you go to dine. A meal here is truly a leisurely adventure in good taste. The menu includes many traditional as well as creative dishes. Several of the classics such as stuffed meatball Calabrese, as an appetizer are based on family recipes. Here, the meatball of beef, veal and pork is enhanced with a filling of house made mozzarella. The Lasagna Calabrese is layered with mini meatballs, caciocavalo cheese and thin slices of prosciutto. I arrived at Da Giorgio with expectations of sampling many menu items, perhaps stuffed meatball, baked clams, eggplant rollatini, mussels bianco or crudu del Giorno , sashimi style sliced fish in a lemon and oil dressing. I remembered a unique calamari pocco pazzo salad (a little crazy) with arugula, fried calamari, sliced banana, tomato and avocado in a ginger lime vinaigrette, and an outstanding beet salad with asparagus, organic greens ricotta salata in a port wine reduction I might have sampled some wild mushroom or sausage and pea risotto. My pasta choice would have probably been one I remember so well, Rigatoni Giorgio with zucchini and steak tips in a brandy sauce or maybe cavatelli con vongole with baby clams, cannellini beans, grape tomatoes and garlic and olive oil. Salmon with pesto, branzino oreganato, bisteca alla fiorentina, or chicken or veal in several preparations might be my entrée.

Chef Giorgio had other ideas for me. Since I had devoured so many of the menu items when they opened in 2007, I was treated to a tasting of the exciting specials that appeared on the day of my visit. A pail filled with freshly baked rolls and a dish of housemade caponata were set before me and soon, the parade of inventive dishes began. Many of us have sampled the popular buratta. Chef Giorgio's presentation was exquisite. Two large slices of this cheese, creamy in the center, were topped with crunchy caramelized grape tomatoes, crumbled pistachios and drizzled with a balsamic glaze. Carefully cubed pieces of beets and pistachios surrounded the dish. It is said that each section of the tongue reacts to a different taste. Here sweet, tart, and salty all interacted for a truly great beginning. Next to arrive was a fresh fig, wrapped in speck and buffalo mozzarella. A glaze of balsamic completed the topping. Sitting beside it was a salad of fennel, granny smith apples, pomegranate, watercress and candied nuts. It was autumn on a plate, a beautiful still life. An unusual pasta special followed. The spachtelli, a squid ink infused black pasta, tossed with a garlic butter sauce, thin slices of jalapeno and succulent crabmeat was sprinkled with parmesan bread crumbs. The touch of jalapeno added a bit of kick to the dish without overwhelming it. The breadcrumbs added texture to complete this beautifully conceived pasta dish. Our entrée special was indeed special. Porto Piano started with scaloppine of chicken breast. Thinly sliced, it was layered with mozzarella and prosciutto and for Giorgio's creative finale, a large tempura battered squash blossom topped the dish. A sauce of roasted garlic, lemon and white wine surrounded this flavorful creation. For dessert, I was presented with a parfait glass with a scoop of hazelnut gelato. Hot espresso was poured over it and it was embellished with freshly whipped cream. Refreshingly simple, this rendition of affogato was just sweet enough to complete a perfectly orchestrated meal.

Soft music and a friendly staff added to the pleasure of the dining experience. Enthusiasm still permeates Chef Giorgio's personality. His eyes light up as he describes his creations and mine lit up upon tasting his glorious dishes. With a mind exploding with culinary ideas, I cannot imagine what he would create given a selection of unique assorted items with which to prepare a dish. I can only assume the results would be extraordinary.
Enjoy a leisurely lunch or dinner at Da Giorgio's, where creativity abounds.

Da Giorgio Ristorante
77 Quaker Ridge Road
New Rochelle
(914) 235- 2727

Recipes:

Squid Ink Pasta with Shrimp, Ndujetta and Tomatoes (serves 2-3)

Ingredients:

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined and chopped into ¼ inch pieces
3 Tbsps. extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
1 cup crushed or whole peeled pureed tomatoes
4 ounces ndujetta*
Kosher salt to taste
12 ounces squid ink spaghetti
¼ cup freshly chopped parsley
Finely ground Calabrese chili flakes, to taste*
½ cup dry white wine {if you would not drink it don't cook with it]olives
Directions:

Heat 1 Tbsp. of oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat and saute garlic until golden, stirring constantly. Add wine and reduce by half. Add tomatoes and bay leaf and cook on medium high heat for 4 to 5 minutes. In a medium pot fill ¾ way up with water and kosher salt and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook to al dente. In the meantime add shrimp and ndujetta to the tomatoes Cover the pot and heat through to cook the shrimp. Drain the pasta and reserve about 1 ½ cups of the water. Add cooked pasta to tomato mixture adding the reserved pasta water as needed for a desirable consistency. Toss in remaining oil and parsley and serve.

• The ndujetta is a soprasetta spicy paste available in Italian markets and Calabrese chile flakes are available there, as well

Marinated Mixed Olives Calabrese (Serves about 4)

½ cup each of red, green and black olives *
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 Tbsps. chopped fresh oregano
Red chili flakes, to taste
Zest of ½ orange, lime and lemon
Drain all of the olives and rinse in water. In a non-reactive bowl toss with the remaining ingredients and let them marinate for a while.

• Teitel Brothers on Arthur Avenue has a good selection of olives

Contributor Judie Dweck has been writing about restaurants and food for many publications. She teaches creative cooking to children at Scarsdale elementary schools. Through the years, her articles have appeared in Jack and Jill Magazine, Spotlight, The Pleasure of Cooking and The Scarsdale Inquirer. She balances her restaurant tastings with daily ballet classes.

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