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Vesta - new Astoria Italian at 30th Av and 21st St

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megatron Oct 18, 2008 10:42 AM

I've been watching this place take shape in the old Agatha's Deli space on the corner of 30th Av and 21st St for a while now, and they finally opened. This neighborhood doesn't have so many tasty restaurants (with the exception of Club 21 and their excellent beer and bacony pierogies). So I'm happy to see Vesta Wine Bar there 2 blocks from my apartment.

We went last night. They're open for dinner, and they have a bar with a whole lot of wines and a few beers on tap. They keep the music down to a reasonable level (it did get a little loud, but then they turned it down, to my relief). The playlist seems to have been designed to appeal to the Anglo 30-something demographic (Neutral Milk Hotel? In an Italian restaurant?)... since we are card-carrying members of that demographic, we were predictably pleased with the soundtrack.

The short menu is hitting all the price points right now... I'm hoping it keeps the less-expensive items because it's the sort of place we'll go when we don't feel like cooking. They have small plates, appetizers, a few pizzas, pastas, and meat entrees. The atmosphere is pretty nice, actually. It wasn't full when we got there at 7:30, but by 8 the place was hopping with a wine-happy crowd.

The wines (all Italian) are grouped into three price categories, from $6.50/glass to $8.50/glass. You can also buy them by the bottle and by the shot. I asked about that, and the waitress said "sometimes people just want a little bit of wine." Come to think of it, we could have tried four wines by the shot for the same price as our two glasses. Not a bad idea. We're on a budget anyhow.

We started with all three items on the small plates section of the menu: olives, beans cooked with caramelized onions, and ricotta cheese. The last 2 are served with garlicky crostini. The beans were outstanding and full of caramelized flavor, though they tended to roll off the toast. The ricotta was creamy and flecked with herbs. There weren't really enough crostini for the amount of topping, so we requested extra bread and received it right away. These items are dirt cheap, by the way... they're like $3 each.

We split the pizza with pesto, ricotta, and mozzarella. After the ricotta appetizer it was a little much, but it's our own fault for ordering all that ricotta. The pizzas are probably intended to be single-serving size, but after appetizers a split pizza is plenty. Vesta's pizza has the thinnest of crusts. It was really good. Chewy and crisp when it was warm, and light and crackery when it cooled off. This turned out to be way more than enough food, much of it consumed in the form of cheese, so we decided to finish the meal with two espressos and head home. We ended up with a tiramisu on the house as well, courtesy of the very nice owner of the restaurant. The espresso was excellent. This is a subjective category, of course. I like a very concentrated espresso with low acidity and lots of flavor, and this was a good one. The tiramisu was delicious and it was the final nail in our creamy dairy coffin.

The whole bill for the both of us, before tip, came to 33 bucks. That's not too bad. We were so full we hurt a little as we walked home.

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    hopkicker3 RE: megatron Oct 19, 2008 12:29 AM

    Great review...I look forward to heading over there this week for sure!!!!!

    1. Harlan RE: megatron Oct 20, 2008 05:10 PM

      Just a quick note that there's a thread on Astorians.com about Vesta, including a couple of good reviews and a menu. http://www.astorians.com/community/in...

      1. r
        razzadri7 RE: megatron Oct 22, 2008 02:01 PM

        My boyfriend and I have been anxiously awaiting the opening of this neighborhood trattoria, and let me say, we were not disappointed. We have been twice in the last week and a half, and I look forward to another visit this weekend. We like to call it our "Cheers". The owner and staff are very friendly and accommodating, and the food speaks for itself. We have had the pizza every time. Thin and crispy crust, not overloaded with cheese-fabulous!!! And all I have to say is thank goodness for some "little baby jesus" in our astoria hood. Don't ask-just order it for dessert. You will thank me. And Jesus. A perfect addition to the neighborhood.

        1. k
          ketuckygirl RE: megatron Oct 27, 2008 12:02 PM

          I've eaten at Vesta at least once every few days since opening night. The food is consistently fantastic!!! The owners are incredibly friendly and down to earth. The wine is great. Everything on the menu seems to be delicious, compliments to the chef. My friends and I will continue to frequent our new favorite neighborhood wine bar. I would defenitely recommend it!!!

          1. m
            missjeanne RE: megatron Nov 14, 2008 08:52 AM

            Checked it out last night and I was really happy with our decision to try it. I read about Vesta a few places and all of the reviews were sooooo positive that I was thinking, "Come on...how much shill is this"? However, I am totally on board now. The wines range between 24-38 bucks. We didn't spend much time talking to the manager/servers so I don't know how much their wine knowledge is yet but I thought that there was a nice selection of affordably priced Italian wines. We ordered a bottle, had fried calamari (OK - some were a bit soggy), crostini with fresh ricotta (delightful), and a pizza that was paper thin and absolutely magnificent. What I liked about it was that even though it was really thin, it wasn't saggy or soggy. I don't know enough about pizza to debate the type of flour they use or argue over authenticity with one region of Italy versus another but I can say that I felt is was very well balanced in terms of flavor and texture.
            In all, a bottle of wine, crostini, calamari and pizza came to before tip, just over 50 bucks. Not bad.

            1. s
              Stripedog79 RE: megatron Dec 19, 2008 01:23 PM

              FYI, before I forget about this, just went to Vesta for a Friday lunch with co-workers. I didn't expect to be there for that long but it is the holidays and a Friday so....

              First off, this place is AWESOME! managed to snag a day where it was uncrowded and the service was attentive and knowledgeable. For wine, I went with their Chianti (smooth) and the waiter suggested another wine which was tasty (sorry forgot the name!).

              First course = Butternut and acorn squash soup. Smooth, buttery, just the right amount of cream with a hint of cinnamon. perfect for a snowy day.

              2nd course = arugula salad with steak. Absolutely delicious with artichoke hearts and wonderful dressing. Co-workers had the sprassetto (sp?) panini and the pork panini, which both got a thumbs up. Interestingly enough, the sandwiches came with roasted brussel sprouts. Not a huge fan personally but my co-worker thought they were excellent.

              Desert = THIS is important. Get the Baby Jesus Cake. Perfectly sweet, excellent texture (there was a crust on it), topped with caramel sauce and whipped cream. I recommend that it gets paired with a cup of coffee. perfect.

              The best part of it all was, for a two hour 3 course lunch with a glass or two of wine: Under $100 for four people. Definitely coming back here!

              1. z
                zemilideias RE: megatron Jan 9, 2009 11:49 AM

                The neighborhood doesn't have too many tasty restaurants? How about Roti Boti on 21st w/Astoria Blvd???? Now that's tasty, if greasy.

                4 Replies
                1. re: zemilideias
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                  yussdov RE: zemilideias Jun 1, 2009 10:15 AM

                  we recently checked out vesta. there were things we liked and others that left us a bit unimpressed. for starters, the ambience and service are great. the vibe of the place, the decor, the overall feeling etc. is really nice and comfy and welcoming and the waitstaff, owner and bus-staff are really friendly and do a great job of making you feel welcome and wanted. they've done an absolutely great job of setting the place up and training the staff. if what you're looking for is great, kind of hip, non-pretentious atmosphere, there are very few places in queens that provide that (and here, i'm thinking of places like tournesol, or at least the old tournesol.) basically, vesta feels like an east village eatery or maybe a williamsburg place, but without the attitude and with prices that make sense. the waitstaff are friendly, helpful, informed and attentive.

                  the wine bar side of things is likewise spot on. they have a great selection of wines, great prices, knowledgeable staff, and the brilliant shot/glass/bottle idea. and they have a very decent beer selection. it'd be nice if they had some italian bitters/aperitifs/grappas etc., but clearly their alcohol license doesn't allow for that.

                  unfortunately, the food side of things is still lagging a bit behind the service, the atmosphere and the wine. the menu looks good and hints at smart and clever food pairings, but the food, although quickly prepared and delivered to the table, seems be lacking in the kind of taste complexity that we were hoping for. the bread that's brought out early in the meal was kind of dry and tasteless and was paired with an olive oil that, for us, was just a bit too bitter for dipping. why not pair it with a slightly sweeter oil? our crostini apps were okay, but the mix of melted taleggio, dates and onions seemed to lack a depth of flavor that it needed to bring it all together. maybe it needed to be prepared with a bit of pancetta in the onions or a tad bit of anchovy paste, or more salt or some other spice or fat that would bind it all together. likewise, our meatball appetizer was a bit anemic. the sauce was too acidic and lacked any depth. the sauce lacked any hint of sweetness, needed some lipid (like olive oil or meat or pancetta fat), and the only spice really present was the chopped basil sprinkled on top. the meatballs themselves were a bit bland and lacked the promised juiciness of a braised dish (partly because they seemed to be molded too tightly before cooking). and our margherita pizza was likewise kind of tasteless. the crust was like a cracker, the sauce didn't have that much depth and the cheese wasn't that tasty. (although the pizza sauce and the meatball sauce were clearly not from the same pot.) for us, the dough lacked fat and yeast, and was more like matzoh than pizza dough. why not add more olive oil, more yeast, let it rise a bit more or maybe cook it at a lower temp? for dough that thin and with so little yeast, the oven seemed to be too hot, leaving the crust with no chewiness whatsoever. or maybe it needs a hotter oven and less time in the oven.

                  after 3 disappointing, kind of sub-par dishes, we opted out of desert, although we'd arrived prepared to order the much lauded baby jesus cake. maybe we'll return sometime soon for wine and desert, since the deserts on the menu looked interesting and a lot more creative than your usual tiramisu and gelati etc. when the owner asked us about our food, we shared some of our thoughts and he patiently and graciously heard us out. it might have even been the first time i've ever been so honest and up front with an owner, but i so want them to do well and i so want the food to be a notch better, so we risked telling him what we thought.

                  i really hope the food improves a bit. we so enjoyed the room, the service and the wine and the prices are really fair. there really aren't any places like this in queens, and if, for a change, what you're looking for is a comfy, chic, fairly priced, east-villagey place without the trip into manhattan, than this could be it. not that queens needs to change what it is. i love the homey, tastey, no-frills presentation of authentic 'ethnic' eateries, and rarely leave queens for an eat out meal, but vesta, for all it's popularity, isn't yet delivering on the food. maybe the crowds and praise are keeping the kitchen complacent. maybe the chef is young. or maybe the 30 something crowd just doesn't have the kind of demanding palette that forces a kitchen to step it up. but when an italian place doesn't knock its meatballs and margherita pizza out of the ballpark, then something's gotta change. while the menu looks good, the kitchen's ability to really make the ingredients work together is still not there. if only vesta's kitchen could deliver the complex depth of flavor needed to match it's service and atmosphere, the place would be a hands down winner.

                  1. re: yussdov
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                    Stuartmc910 RE: yussdov Jun 3, 2009 08:50 AM

                    I was planning to try it this weekend, but after reading yussdov's review, I think not. The other turn off was the mention of the music in the opening post. Why do restaurant owners/managers feel there is a need to blast the music?

                    1. re: Stuartmc910
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                      John_Keenan RE: Stuartmc910 Jul 17, 2009 07:35 PM

                      Stuart, I think you missed out. Tried Vesta tonight and I have to say I think it's one of the best haute barnyard restaurants in NYC. The baby jesus cake has to be tried, its spongy, sweat, caramelly and so good. I went with roast chicken -- fantastic -- similar to Irving Mill, but better, salty (which is key) with a crisp skin. Had their local greens salad with anchovy dressing and avocado -- basically a locavore caesar, very good.

                      I get the criticism of the pie, but if you want UPN or Keste then go there. For a local spot, I thought the pie was good -- we got the apple/pancetta pie so maybe that worked. It's probably more akin to a philo dough pie or the puffed pastry pies of Nice (though not as much fat). Wife had the tomato and mozz crostini, the homemade mozz was phenomenal.

                      yossdov, you captured the vibe perfectly -- six points on tap, of course. it's very general greene/five points/cookshop in its feel. as those happen to be my favorite spots, i'm glad theirs an outpost like this in astoria.

                      I think the mistake of this place is marketing it as "Italian." It's not Italian and when people come expecting NYC Italian food, they will be disappointed. It's Blue Hill style local oriented food with an Italian accent.

                      yossdov -- you have to go back and get the chicken and the baby jesus cake and report back -- I think you might change your mind :)

                      BTW, I didn't notice any music while I was there ...

                      1. re: John_Keenan
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                        zemilideias RE: John_Keenan Jul 27, 2009 08:34 AM

                        yussdov hit the nail on the head: I live nearby and was excited about this place opening. The ambience and the wines and the space are great. The service is awesome and the guys who run the place make a real effort to transmit their knowledge about food to diners without an E. Village or Billburg attitude, yes!

                        However, as noted, the "Italian" (or even if it's American!!) food is not up to the standards one is led to believe reign here. The Margherita pizza crust, while passable, is too close to Ritz crackers. I've had the gnocchi which tastes too Chef Boyardeeish to me (in fairness I'd say that a majority of "italian" spots in NYC today have veered into this area as Italianness blends into Whitebreadedness in the great US melting pot). Same is true for the lasagna--I do a much better one at home. This reminded me of good airline food in its mini-dish. I've had another pizza, a mix of Italian sausage and something else that escapes me at the moment and it was not as good as the the only middling Margarita (sp?). I had a salad whose grains were so totally soaked in oil that I thought I was back in the college dining hall.

                        The "Baby Jesus" cake, however, is truly awesome. I think it must be one of the owner's grandma's recipes and somehow avoided the homogenization and americanization that goes into the rest of the foods.

                        If the food gets up to speed here I'll be a regular as, again, ambiance is great and prices are reasonable. But at this point it's just another of those bland, trying to be homey, E.Village or Billburg-type places as NYC becomes more and more cheesedoggish. I guess for some people that's progress. And, again, I would say that if you want a truly good meal on 21st St. go up a
                        coupla blocks to Roti Boti, preferrably in the wee hrs. of the morning when
                        the cabs are lined up and the food is freshest. Or even go across the street,
                        up a few blocks, and have a Halal meat sandwich across the corner from the post office!

                2. MellieGal RE: megatron Jul 28, 2009 04:24 AM

                  Dear friends took us to Vesta for our birthday brunch. I was truly impressed and it takes a lot to impress me. I ordered the "bankie" which consisted of eggs over creamy polenta with mushrooms and asparagus...truly a winner. The highlight of the brunch was dessert. It was recommended to try the Gesu Bambino Gesu Christo...something like that. With a name as such I had to give it a try. It was one of the very best desserts I have ever had. Delicioso!

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: MellieGal
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                    nylord1 RE: MellieGal Jul 28, 2009 08:24 AM

                    I have been to Vesta several times to try out most of the dishes on their menu. Although the ambience is nice and definitely needed in Astoria, the food is very lacking. I would love to give them a glowing review because the neighborhood needs great restaurants, but the food is just sub par. They need a better chef in the place.

                    1. re: nylord1
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                      queenseats RE: nylord1 Jul 28, 2009 10:12 AM

                      Wow. I am really shocked at the negative reviews of Vesta. I've been going there about once every two months since they opened, and have never had a disappointing meal (perhaps one dish may be somewhat underwhelming at a time, but never have left dissatisfied). I find that their brunches are a real strength (L'Italiano, Warm Bankie, and Omelette have all been excellent and their coffee is fantastic -- a bit strong, but that's how I like it). I"ve not tried the pizzas, but I understand that they are thin crust. The dinner menu rotates by season. In my experience, I think their fall/winter menu was somewhat stronger than the spring/summer menu. In particular, I love their hot soups. When I go, I usually order a few dishes (a soup, salad, maybe some crostini), and share a couple of entrees. I find that this is the best way for me to sample the menu, and because the prices are very fair, it's never been an expensive meal. I feel that for the value, it's a very high quality meal with a focus on seasonally appropriate products from local sources. I have been somewhat let down by the pastas, although I very much did enjoy the lasagna. I've loved all the salads I've tried (had an amazing calamari and watermelon salad last time, which was particularly remarkable because I hate watermelon and figured that I'd pick out all the watermelon pieces, but the flavor combination was really nice so I ended up eating it). I agree with the posters who take issue with the restaurant billing itself as Italian. I think Italian-influenced bistro is more appropriate. I view the dinner menu as more of a collection of small plates, and use that to guide how I order, rather than just picking an entree.

                      1. re: queenseats
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                        queenseats RE: queenseats Jul 28, 2009 07:26 PM

                        Oh, and the Baby Jesus Cake is no joke.

                        1. re: queenseats
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                          John_Keenan RE: queenseats Aug 7, 2009 02:20 PM

                          I went a 2nd time and I'm still a big fan. Had a special arugula, tomato, caper salad. Solid. Cold tomato soup -- I could go for some more acid, a bit sweet for me, but my wife loved it. Pork Milanese would be better if it were veal, but still very nice, maybe could use a sauce instead of salad, but I kind of like the salad option instead. Had the Festonati pasta with zuchinni pesto -- phenomenal. Had the chocolate dessert, very nice, not as good a baby jesus, but would be great if you didn't know of baby jesus. So on my scorecard, there have been no misses, and three destination worthy dishes -- baby jesus cake, roast chicken, zuchinni pasta.

                          I don't get argument that the menu is somehow homogenized american. that's simply false. It is not standard italian american fare as you would find, certainly not arthur avenue style or even some of the more classic italian you find in the city. I would say it's very modern italian -- Il melograno in Hell's Kitchen is probably the most similar Italian restaurant to Vesta I've been to -- and the owner there basically transported his restaurant from Italy to NYC.

                          If you go expecting "standard" Italian food, like I said you will be disappointed. If you think this will Battali style (or some kind of knock off like Roberto Passon), you will also be disappointed. If you expect Union Square Cafe style food, in a small, low key, Ft. Greene/Park Slope style setting, then you will be happy.

                          1. re: John_Keenan
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                            irishnyc RE: John_Keenan Oct 17, 2009 12:40 PM

                            I agree with John Keenan. I grew up in Astoria and loathe going back because I hate what it's become, but I've been lured home several times by Vesta.

                      2. re: nylord1
                        fudjunkie RE: nylord1 Nov 7, 2009 02:37 PM

                        I, too, am really surprised by the negative reviews. I've never had a bad meal here, and I've eaten here a number of times, both for dinner and brunch. I find the flavors well-balanced and the food well prepared. For brunch, I recommend the warm bankie or the hangover pizza. The baby Jesus cake is, indeed, no joke. I've never been to Italy, so I have no idea whether this is "real Italian" or not, but I hardly think that matters if the food is good. We must have very different tastes.

                        1. re: fudjunkie
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                          cuaimo RE: fudjunkie Nov 7, 2009 03:34 PM

                          The bad reviews are merely anti-schilling. Vesta, pound for pound, is a great restaurant whether in queens or Manhattan. It is Astoria's Perbacco. For the price point, wether food or wine, Vesta continually delivers. Definitely worth a a visit, then another.

                          1. re: cuaimo
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                            zemilideias RE: cuaimo Nov 7, 2009 04:35 PM

                            "Bad reviews are anti-schilling." Hmmm....I haven't heard that one before. I guess I'm out of it and to think, living right near Vesta I was all psyched, after spotting the nice decor and sitting down and being welcomed in a great way by owners/waitstaff, to write a great review here and let people here know what had come to Astoria. Well, the place has come somewhat close. But if the pizza margarita, the gnocchi, and the lasagna taste bland there's little use in Vesta fans pointing out that the place is (North) American, not Italian. Let me repeat "pizza, gnocchi, and lasagna." You categorize them nationally. I went back and ate again since my last review. My last review stands--But Dorothy, they ARE too bland, lacking just a yo no se que in the tastiness department. Howeer, again, wines and baby jesus cake rock. So, owners, if you are reading this, pls tweak our taste buds just a bit, listen to the earnest diner/tastebudman who says he told you the truth, and those who like a bit of rock n roll, low light, tasteful decor and nice tables and service but don't compare Queens restaurants to Manhattan hellholes but rather to their tasty outer borough peers will flock to you...happily

                            -----
                            Vesta
                            21-02 30th Ave, Queens, NY 11102

                          2. re: fudjunkie
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                            zemilideias RE: fudjunkie Dec 16, 2009 11:16 AM

                            have you ever had a good meal beyond the wine and cake?

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