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Great Italian

Any recs for good, basic Italian like your Italian Grandmother would have made?

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  1. What you're looking for is probably best exemplified at Don Peppe's in Ozone Park, Queens.

    5 Replies
    1. re: strangemd

      imho don peppes is at best mediocre, i m not a fan

      1. re: intrepid3591

        it is what it is. Not Babbo. But the best linguine with white clam sauce ever.

        1. re: strangemd

          Should a tourist who seems to be be visiting from LA - who posted on the Manhattan Board - go up there during their limited time in the city?

          1. re: strangemd

            True, Don Peppe's is in Queens and the OP is probably looking for Manhattan.
            However, since it was mentioned, and intrepid said he/she is not a fan. I will say that there is no restaurant with baked clams that come even close to Don Peppe's. That is anywhere in the world. Although Ennio and Michael's now closed came close. The linguini with white clam sauce is exceptional. The seafood salad excellent. Chicken scaparella or their Chinese chicken excellent.
            As far as Manhattan for the type of food original poster wants, here is my picks:
            Bar Pitti, Accapella, Gaetano's, Il Brigante, Villa Mosconi.
            Rubirosa they will hate.

            1. re: foodwhisperer

              <Rubirosa they will hate.>

              Statements like that are not helpful without an explanation. What is your reason?

      2. An Italian grandmother from Rome, Brooklyn, Genoa.. ?

        1. Which part of Italy is your Italian Grandmother from or is she Italian American? What are you thinking of eating and how much do you want to spend?

          1. Lasagna, eggplant parm, spaghetti & clams, great minestrone, chicken picatta... I like northern and southern. looking to spend up to $40 per person pre drinks

            6 Replies
            1. re: flowergirl

              That is Italian American food. I don't really like that genre, but hear Rubirosa does it well.

              1. re: thegforceny

                Rubirosa does this style very well, but their emphasis is on pizza. They only have 4 main courses, though they do have a good selection of pastas and appetizers. You can get a great meal there, but the OP should check out their menu to see if it is what she is looking for.

              2. re: flowergirl

                Isle of Capri has all those dishes, including chicken picata


                I quite love the place as a half-century old institution (grandmothers did do the recipes) but it has been a very long time since I ate there, but you can find reports of recent dining experiences on the web from Zagat's, UrbanSpoon, all the usual suspects...

                1. re: flowergirl

                  I haven't been to Rubirosa so can't comment, but other restaurants in Manhattan that serve some good food in this genre are John's of 12th St. and Arturo's. Whether they're great or remind you of your grandmother's food is another question.

                  1. re: flowergirl

                    Bar Pitti is super-casual and has some of the things for mention, though I've never seen chicken piccata. It's authentic Florentine cuisine, not Italo-Americano. Order from their extensive daily specials (they pass around a blackboard with them listed in Italian only), not from their printed menu.

                    1. re: mahler5

                      Actually the chicken piccata is not authentic florentine, neither it's really a classic italian dish.. Not one that you would find in many restaurants in Italy..
                      In my experience the chicken (or more often the veal) "piccata" is something that italians sometime do at home for his semplicity, it's veal cooked with some butter and finished with white wine and lemon juice, but many Italians don't even know that it is called piccata...

                  2. If you want to taste something Italian and not Italian-American I'd try Giovanni Rana at Chelsea Market, Lupa in the greenwich village, the carbonara pasta at Angolo Soho or many dishes at Eataly..

                    16 Replies
                    1. re: alepenazzi

                      Giovanni Rana deviates a lot from classic Italian matchings of pasta with sauce. Tonnarelli alla Bolognese, for instance, would raise eyebrows in Bologna, chestnut tagliatelle with guinea fowl ragu is unique, a lasagna with spinach and taleggio would normally have a potato cream, etc. Since the place is run by native born Italians I don't want to say it isn't Italian cooking or that it is Italian American, but things have been tweaked in the direction of novelty, which is more typical of American menus than ones in Italy, and some dishes are plainly geared to American palates (polenta fries or braised pork plated with apples and potatoes).

                      (Just looked at Angolo's menu and wonder why fettucine rigate instead of spaghetti with the carbonara. Does spaghetti just not sound restaurant worthy? It's the pasta Italians would use.)

                      1. re: barberinibee

                        Actually the menu of the Giovanni Rana restaurant is pretty much the same menu of the Giovanni Rana restaurant in Verona, Italy (which, by the way, closed a few months ago). There aren't American twists.. Fried polenta is a snack as old as Italy and I've never heard that lasagne with spinach and taleggio needs potato cream...

                        Carbonara is made with spaghetti, fettuccine, rigatoni or rigatoni even in Rome where it was born... I really liked the pasta they use at Angolo, the fettuccine are as thick as spaghetti (maybe a little more) and the sauce sticks more to the pasta itself thanks to the "rigata" style.

                        1. re: alepenazzi

                          Rana is an innovator, with a lot of affection for America. I shouldn't attribute motives to him and don't want to, but I do believe he himself has said that when he started his NYC restaurant, he wanted to do something new (whatever that means). I was never at his Verona restaurant, but unless this is the wrong website, the menu for it is still online and it seems to me more conservative than the one at the Chelsea place:


                          Anyway, if the recommendation is to skip eating Italian-American in favor of sampling what Italians eat in restaurants in Italy, I'm not sure Rana in the Chelsea market is what I would recommend for that.

                          I do know that not just spaghetti but rigatoni and fettucine (and I would add bucatini and penne rigate) are often "alla carbonara' in Rome, but I think you would need to go pretty far to track down a fettucine rigate on a Roman menu. Perhaps that's Rome's loss, but again, my response was to the specific suggestion to sample what is eaten in Italy, presumably as a comparison to Italian-American (which I happen to like at its best). I confess to being a loather of polenta in all its forms, but you are right that polenta fritta is as old as least the "discovery" of America. Seeing them on a menu as Polenta Fries threw me.

                          But okay -- no vellutata di patate needed for the lasagna.

                          I really don't think Italian cooking belongs in a straight-jacket, and modifications and new inspirations are inevitable if you are cooking in a different locale. NYC in recent years has acquired quite a number of places that try and succeed in bringing Americans a much truer experience of Italian regional cuisine. But I still think that most Manhattan diners who travel to italy will be in for some surprises when they encounter local dishes on their home turf.

                          1. re: alepenazzi


                            I think this website is worth adding to the mix in understanding Giovanni Rana:


                            1. re: barberinibee

                              Actually things are a little different..
                              Giovanni Rana has never been much of an innovator, he is making classic pastas since 50 years. His great innovation was the smart marketing and his commercials that made him famous throughout Italy.
                              The menu for the verona's restaurant you posted it's the not old one that was in place when they took over the restaurant from the previous owner (it was called "tre corone" back then, then it changed management and they sold the name as well and it become the present Trattoria Giovanni Rana which I think it's pretty boring).

                              I would definitely recommend it to get away from the Italian/American flavors and back to authentic dishes.

                              Polenta was used way before the "discovery" of the americas, Romans used to make it with farro, in northern Italy with grano saraceno, ancient greeks with orzo, etc etc... The "polenta fries" were a typical dish of the lazio and campania tradition.

                              I honestly think that the dishes at Giovanni Rana are easily found in Italy, and they are normally eaten by the locals, especially their pastas.

                              That being said it's definitely not the best Italian in New York.. I much prefer Marea or Felidia for example. Still true Italian but modern. The good thing about Giovanni Rana is that it's simple and straightforward and reminds me of home in a different way than the others.

                              PS that website is about a small chain restaurant in Italia that Giovanni Rana made under his name, they are all self-service restaurants inside malls and such..

                              1. re: alepenazzi

                                I consider someone who finds many innovative ways to market themselves, their name and their products an innovator.

                                One thing that is for sure is that Giovanni Rana's pasta is everywhere in Italy. I have never bought it, but it is sold in plastic tubs in every supermarket. (I'm not against it. I've just never bought it).

                                Again, I'm going to disagree with you that something like tonnarelli alla bolognese or lobster mezzaluna with chanterelle mushrooms can be easily found in Italy (and yes, I know they are finferli). But there's always the chance I have't been paying enough attention.

                                If I were taking someone to Giovanni Rana in Chelsea to sample simple flavors of Italy, I think I'd be cherry-picking just a few pastas off that menu -- like the pacchieri with calamari and marinara, or the raddichio and gorgonzola triangolo with aged balsamic vinegar, and explaining away the rest as close takes on classics, but not the classics themselves. I'd be asking if they could bring me and my friend our secondi without all the sides.

                                However, I do think it is possible to get across the spirit of simplicity of Italian cuisine, especially pastas dressed with just one or two accents/flavors using fresh local ingredients instead of imported ones, and steering clear of the clashing confusion of multiple ingredients and aromatics you often find in Italian-American restaurants.

                                I do know that gruels made of many things existed in Italy before corn polenta. I recently had a really beautiful antique chestnut gruel in the valle d'Aosta that made one really sorry corn took over. But it was not presented as "polenta" -- even though it was plainly a pre-cursor and perhaps was called that once -- and I don't think you could go anywhere in Italy and ask for polenta and not automatically get corn. Yes? No? ( I still haven't been to Sardegna.) I see that Rana specified "taragna polenta" on his menu, to indicate it is not just corn but also buckwheat.

                                Finally, I'm losing track of which menus and websites are what, but Giovanni Rana has at least one branch in London, and I think there that the pan-Italian menu of pasta dishes offered is actually closer than the Chelsea menu to what one easily finds in Italy (I don't have time to check out the menus for the branches in Switzerland, Spain and Luxembourg)


                                  1. re: barberinibee

                                    Those last links are from the chain restaurants, which are totally different from Chelsea Market..

                                    I think you are missing quite a huge part of the Italian cuisine and culture if you can't find traditional pastas but those two...

                                    Cappelletti al prosciutto
                                    Spinach and ricotta girasole
                                    Ravioli al brasato
                                    Spinach and taleggio lasagne
                                    Ravioli di zucca
                                    Ravioli di formaggi
                                    Zuppa di zucca

                                    All these are pasta dishes that you would normally find not only in restaurants but in houses in all northern Italy. They are not takes on classics, they are the actual 100% classics.

                                    The same goes for the secondi:
                                    Merluzzo, rice beans, rosemary oil and potatoes
                                    Roasted chicken, rosemary and shallot
                                    Braised pork, apples and roasted potatoes

                                    All straightforward and simple ingredients used everyday in many families..

                                    The only one that definitely speaks only American is the lobster mezzaluna with mushrooms.. It would be very hard to find something like that in Italy.

                                    PS the tonnarelli, while not used in Emilia (they are a tipical pasta used in lazio, Calabria, etc) are much more authentic than the spaghetti with the bolognese sauce that are so common in the US, as bolognese is made to be eaten with egg pasta, like lasagne (or the tonnarelli).. I'm not saying that is the way bolognese is meant to be eaten, just that it's a very common thing in Italy to have different sauces with different kind of pastas and it doesn't seem and American twist..

                                    1. re: alepenazzi


                                      I said in my first post to you and will now say again it is the pairings of pastas and dressings on the Chelsea menu that one doesn't find on menus in Italy. Sure there is ravioli di formaggi, and yes there is even walnut pesto, but normally not together. Actually, Rana's chain market menus come closer -- with offerings like trofiette al pesto -- than the pairings in the Chelsea branch. I'm not saying they are all novel. I'm saying that for even a pan-Italian menu, there are some that I doubt you could find in Italy.

                                      I must add here hat every time I write a response to you, I end up deleting several sentences because the whole thing is too long -- and then your response to me corrects me for precisely what I deleted. Last time, I had deleted a sentence about reminding you that I was talking about the pairings of pasta to dressing -- not the paste themselves. Who eats undressed pasta? But then I deleted it. So sorry this is so long!

                                      Again, like I said in my very first post, tonnarelli alla bolognese would raise eyebrows in Bologna. I didn't say spaghetti alla bolognese is right. But do note the menu for the Rana chain in Italy serves tagliatelle al ragu. So I really do dispute that one easily finds in Italy what's on Rana's Chelsea menu. Even the Rana chain in Italy doesn't serve tonnarelli alla bolognese.

                                      Also I do want to emphasize I am talking about MENUS in RESTAURANTS in italy, not what home cooks make or families eat. Part of the reason I have only wanted to talk about menus in restaurants is because that is what most visitors will end up encountering if they ever go to Italy.

                                      What they will also encounter is secondi served plain, most often isolated on a plate without sides. Normally no rice beans potatoes, etc. with the exception of a few classic dishes. If they want contorni, they will order them separately and each will come on its own plate -- (and the dish will be simple. No chard with cheese. Just chard).

                                      Of course in more creative restaurants one often finds something different, but Rana in Chelsea fashions itself in the style of a neighborhood eatery in Italy. Most Americans don't expect to get a main plate with only a piece of meat or fish on it, no potatoes or veg. I think it is a very small concession to American expectations to serve other items on a plate with meat or fish, and probably a necessary one, and I am only noting the difference, not saying it is perverse. But if I were taking a friend to Rana to teach them more about Italy, I would point out that normally one wouldn't be served vegetables this way in Italy.

                                      Okay, I think I have said everything I can say about this! I hardly think Rana's Chelsea menu is a crime against Italian regional cooking. But if a NY'er only ate at Rana and loved it, and looked forward to going to Italy to eat tonnarelli alla bolognese, chestnut tagliatelle with guinea fowl ragu, or ravioli quadretti formaggi with walnut pesto and parmigiano, I wouldn't know where to tell them to go in Italy to find those combinations on a menu. I would know to tell them to go to Mantova for the ravioli di zucca with toasted almonds, or to southern Italy for the pacchieri with squid, but some of the others have got me truly stumped, and I am wondering if they are on the menu in Chelsea because Americans like to eat pasta with chicken sauces and think of Italian food as having an overload of cheeses (and perhaps New Yorkers already know spaghetti alla bolognese is a touristy no-no, so therefore tonnarelli alla bolognese?)

                                      1. re: barberinibee

                                        I'm sorry but I have to disagree about a few things...

                                        All of those dishes can easily be found in restaurants in Italy.

                                        The same goes for the sides.. Of course you can order contorni, but more often then not they are already served with your secondo.

                                        I've rarely found a piece of meat alone on a plate in Italy, unless it's a particularly good steak that deserves to be eaten alone, with no sides to ruin the flavors.

                                        So if you have a friend and you bring him to Rana you can easily say that those dishes could be easily be served in many neighborhood eateries in Italy.

                                        The only one that's a big no no is actually one of the pastas, the cappelletti al prosciutto. They are delicious but they are served with a piece of bread and a prosciutto slice on the side, which is actually good but it doesn't make any sense to an italian.

                                        If you have a friend that is coming to Italy and he is looking for tonnarelli alla bolognese (I ate them in abruzzo), chestnut tagliatelle with guinea fowl ragu (in veneto), or ravioli ai formaggi with walnut pesto (in trentino), don't worry, he will find them.

                                        1. re: alepenazzi


                                          This thread was previously badly hacked to smithereens by Chowhound mods, but I hope everybody sees this:

                                          I have been consistently referring to PAIRINGS OF DRESSINGS WITH PASTAS. That's all. I believe on the other thread about Giovanni Rana you also added information about the classic sauces or broths for some dishes, which are served differently as Rana in Chelsea.

                                          So our difference is really minor. No argument that Rana is selling in Chelsea is the exact same pasta Rana selling in plastic tubs in the refrigerator cases all over Italy. Cappelletti, tortelloni, tortellini, taglioni, etc. What is novel in Chelsea is more license or untraditonal parings with the dressing, sauces, etc, whatever people want to call them. (And I guess bread and proscuitto on the side).

                                          As for secondi in Italy, my experience is polar opposite of yours (and it is a lot of experience, truly).

                                          1. re: barberinibee

                                            Actually I'm referring to pairings of dressings with pastas as well.

                                            The ones you find at rana in my experience are not uncommon at all.
                                            The only one that really strikes me as american is the lobster ravioli with mushroom sauce... (and the crostino col prosciutto with the cappelletti.....)

                                            They did tuned their names for the american market.. Tonnarelli alla bolognese, which might sounds weird, are actually spaghetti alla chitarra (or tonnarelli) al ragù, which are quite common in abruzzo, and I've seen guinea fowl ragu paired not only with chestnut tagliatelle, but with cocoa tagliatelle as well (didn't liked them) and once I found the guineafowl cooked with a chestnut filling and then made into ragu which gave a great flavor to the pasta..

                                            Regarding secondi I seldom received a plate with a piece of meat or a fish alone, and nothing else on the plate, and when it happened either there was a good reason for it (a nice fiorentina or a filetto all'amarone, for example) or some sides were always there.
                                            I'm not talking about mac and cheese or rice, I'm thinking of vegetables, potatoes, sauces, etc.. From the most simple dishes like tagliata con rucola e grana, arrosto con le patate to guancialino di vitello brasato con crema di ceci e broccoletti or scampi al forno su crema di zucca e cuori di carciofi (by the way I had that guancialino di vitello yesterday at Ristorante Antica Torretta in Verona, amazing, highly recommended!).

                                            I guess I might say I have some experience as well being italian, born and raised in Italy, having spent the first 32 years of my life between Verona, Milan and Florence (until 2010) and still going back there for 2/3 months every year..

                                            1. re: alepenazzi

                                              Even though you guys disagree, it makes very interesting reading for me. Mostly you say the same things, but Alepenazzi seems to find more of the pairings Barberinibee doesn't find. I think there are common dishes one will find and uncommon. For example if I mention some dishes I've had from an excellent Italian chef in Italy ( with a Michelin star even) you might say that's not Italian, or you can't find it in Italy , even though I've had it in Italy and you can have it there. Tell me how this sounds: Pigeon in a parsley crust with almond milk, grapes, maize flour, savoy cabbage or guinea hen breast with truffles and yogurt, green apple and crunchy Asiago cheese profiteroles.
                                              These are a couple of dishes from a very creative chef. I have not seen anything like those in any Italian restaurant, but I can tell you , that one can find it in Italy.. The meal I had in this Venice restaurant was exceptional but I actually enjoyed other dishes elsewhere more , like Lasagna with homemade noodles, a dish far beyond any lasagna I've had in the US.
                                              Anyway, i'm sure you can find any dish mentioned if you search hard enough, but most of the Rana pairings are just not that common perhaps.

                                              1. re: alepenazzi

                                                >>Tonnarelli alla bolognese, which might sounds weird, are actually spaghetti alla chitarra (or tonnarelli) al ragù, which are quite common in abruzzo, <<

                                                Now it's clear what you meant. I couldn't fathom tonnarelli alla bolognese, but if you mean al ragù that makes sense. Of course, the ragù of Abruzzo is not the same as bolognese.

                                                In Rome, where I have lived for 34 years, meat is routinely served without contorno, garnish or anything. You used to get a lemon wedge, but I don't think I've seen that in a while. In traditional restaurants it is usual to order everything separately. I'm sure things are different in the North.

                                1. re: alepenazzi

                                  To me, artichokes stuffed with Tallegio SHOULD NOT HAVE PESTO IN THEM. This is not any kind of traditional Italian dish, this is an awful mess. (Also, when you serve baby artichokes, the outer leaves should not be tough and chewy and basically inedible roughage, and when you serve stuffed artichokes, the center should not be cold.).

                                  That said, the salad and pastas that we had were excellent and a good value. I don't think I'd go out of my way to dine here, but if I was at Chelsea Market and looking for lunch this would be the place.

                                  1. re: DavyTheFatBoy

                                    I completely agree. Artichokes, taleggio, and pesto sounds awful.
                                    We don't even eat "baby" artichokes as a rule. Those little ones appear at the end of the season, sold by the kilo (the big ones are sold by the piece), and their destiny is to be put up in jars (carefully trimmed, as you say, of anything tough).

                            2. Rossini's on E 38th St will work for you.
                              Puttanesca too!!

                              1. For excellent Sicilian food, I recommend Piccola Cucina, recently opened (spring 2013) in SOHO at 196 Spring St. Homemade in-house fresh pasta, cooked perfectly. Fabulous grilled octopus, great wine selection, best cannolis we've ever had. Great service too.