15-01 149th Street
Cuisine: Italian 0
Credit Cards: Yes
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Lìolà is not your typical neighborhood Italian restaurant in Queens. Owner and Chef Angelo Alaimo is serious about providing sophisticated, thoughtful dishes, fine wines and exceptional customer service that rival the top Italian restaurants in the entire New York Metropolitan area.
Dinner commences with a plate of cubed parmesan, green and black olives, and an extraordinary hot pickled pepper. The black olives, especially, are meaty and flavorful with the perfect balance of tang and quiet goodness. To bite into the pickled pepper is to experience a fresh and shocking squirt of spiciness that somehow won’t cow you into submission but will have you reaching, gallantly, for another slice – after some cheese and olives in between.
Such an intense flavor might have blotted out another wine pairing, but not so with the sparkling Prosecco that head waiter Roberto recommended. “This opens up your appetite,” he said as he poured. If anything, the sparkling white wine was enhanced by the lingering aftertaste of tangy spice, and perfectly complimented the olives and salty cheese.
In the Italian tradition, service is not particularly fast. This is somewhere you come for a date, a birthday, an experience – not somewhere you go when you’re in a hurry.
But for those in a New York state of rush, the soothing soundtrack in the vein of Louis Armstrong can help them calm down, as well as the glowing fireplace, the spacious, uncluttered layout and the plain white and cream walls. The most common decorative element is wine bottles, of which there are 200 on the menu, and which seem to perch on every possible surface. Other decorations include antique pepper grinders, framed paintings, and metal pots hung on the wall.
Diners likely will also notice a giant cheese wheel, approximately three feet in diameter, prominently displayed. A small bowl-sized amount of cheese has been hollowed out of the center of the wheel. Chef Angelo Alaimo pours the fresh homemade Taglietelle into this bowl, where he gently swirls it round so that the cheese melts and sticks to the hot pasta, evenly coating it. He then pours a few drops of truffle oil and shaves a little bit of the white truffle that can go for $2,300 a pound into the pasta – which contains more generous mouthfuls of the less-precious porcini mushrooms. The resulting dish is as delicious as it sounds.
For a main course, Alaimo prepared a seafood plate of branzino side by side with baked calamari stuffed with chopped clams, octopus and bread crumbs. He explained that the sealed calamari kept the stuffing tender and flavorful. “When you cut it, you have all the aroma inside,” he said. The branzino – a white, Mediterranean fish – was marinated with lemon, olive oil and a little white wine and was a little rare – something suiting to its high quality.
“I know, if you give me the fish in my hand, if it’s fresh or no,” Alaimo said matter-of-factly.
The Chef, who’s worked in five-star restaurants in London, Switzerland and Denmark, as well as his native Italy, says his philosophy is simple:
No heavy cream that overwhelms the other flavors and makes everything generically tasty. “I want you to separate everything in your mouth,” he said.
On the rare occasions where his dishes veer into indulgent, however, they’re truly exceptional. Those dishes include the Oysters Rockefeller and the desserts: caramel gelato and Cassatella Siciliana: dough squares filled with ricotta and chocolate chips.