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Restaurant Review: La Gringa Taqueria

We are back with another restaurant review, and this time, we make a short trip to a Mexican foodie haven known as La Gringa Taqueria, a Cali-style Mexican restaurant that offers delicious fresh food, awesome events, and free activities, mainly in their Brooklyn location, soon to be available in their West Village location, which is where we dined on this evening. The West village is the second location of La Gringa Taqueria (seconds away from the Christopher street/1 train station, at 82 Christopher Street), the first and most known being the Williamsburg, Brooklyn location. If you’ve ever found yourself traveling outside your borough and trekking to Brooklyn to partake in La Gringa’s delights, know that there is a location closer to you. Let’s get to know the West Village location, shall we!

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My contributing writer, David and I wanted to fully enjoy the entire experience from beginning to end, and that included enjoying a few drinks before we begun our foodgasm journey. While La Gringa does offer Margaritas, and a variety of Mexican brewed beers, we didn’t want alcohol to alter the taste of our meal (of course we must go back for those margaritas), so we indulged in only non-alcoholic beverages for the night.

DRINKS AND BEVERAGES

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David: I had a Mexican coke. Remember in the 80’s, I may be dating myself when those awesome Coke commercial featured people quenching their thirst with a cold-sweating tall glass bottle of Coke? Well before this country got all penny pinching on us, Coke was made with real sugar and they still make it like that in Mexico, hence the moniker of Mexican Coke. And you really do taste the difference between real sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

Glasgow: Remember that scene in Forest Gump when he had 15 or so Dr. Peppers at the White House? That was me with the Mexican Coca-Cola. I grew up drinking sodas (including Coke, and Sprite) sweetened with sugar cane instead of the Aspartame Coke is now sweetened with, and trust me when we say it tastes infinitely better. I happily overindulged in my favorite childhood soda, and only took one brief break to enjoy a Tamarind Jarritos. As I’m writing this, I could go for one or two Mexican Coca-Colas.

GRILLED CHICKEN NACHOS – 1ST COURSE

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Glasgow: There are nachos and then there are La Gringa Taqueria Nachos!! If you’re looking for layers upon layers of deliciousness, you should absolutely have this uber-layered delight with orgasm levels of foodie pleasure in every bite. We opted for the grilled chicken Nachos, a delight to the palate and senses. Preparation of this dish is both a visual and aromatic thrill. Aside from the crisp corn chips layered with succulent meat, fresh pico de gallo, black beans, and sweet plantains, the final touch included a topping of torch melted Monterrey jack cheese that added a rustic roasted/charred taste from the flambé torch. I’m so happy I chose this as my meal starter. Check out some video of my nachos getting the flambé torch treatment.

BURRITO – 2ND COURSE

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David (Pulled Pork Burrito): Take all the flavors south of the border and wrap it in a warm tortilla. The steak was seasoned with just enough salt and spices. Meanwhile, the seasoned rice, black beans, tomatoes, cheese, special tomatillo sauce and my favorite addition of sweet plantains all served to not overpower the wonderful pork but complement it with an explosive flavor profile that was hearty and satisfying.

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Glasgow (Steak Burrito): Never again will I be laissez-faire about my steak burrito or any burrito for that matter. The eruption of flavor I enjoyed while devouring the wonderful combination of perfectly seasoned steak, yellow rice, and sweet plantain (a surprising and very welcome touch of sweetness which paired perfectly with the hot Picante sauce I topped the whole thing with), made me see the light of what a delicious burrito should taste like. I’ll be forever under its delicious spell.

STEAK QUESADILLA – 3RD COURSE

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David: There’s something about beef with Mexican seasoning that just marries so well together. When the mounds of fresh queso were added it was kismet, but the topper was the winner. The preparer used a blowtorch to melt the layers of cheese down to gooey perfection that ran in between the layer of steak with lovely melted ease. When topped with a spicy fire-roasted Picante sauce and the other warm tortilla I knew the flavor would be simple yet impacting, and it was. The hot sauce mingled perfectly with the warm seasoned steak and the smokiness of the fresh-torched cheese unified all the flavors together in holy matrimony. Another simple but flavorful dish that tasted familiar and satisfying.

THE SETTING

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David: So tucked away on an infamous but quiet street in the West Village is the really quaint little taqueria spot called La Gringa. As soon as you enter it feels like you’re about to have some authenticity going on with the menu. The walls were ornately decorated with a mural-sized painting of Mexican motifs and popular symbolic figures in full, and I must say pretty amazing, vivid color. They must have had an expert mural painter create that display of art! It was really a page torn out of Mexico City with the rustic tables the array of colors and of particular note, the bottle opener at the front of the establishment that was kind of like a nod to “hey its old fashioned and rustic here, we give you authentic and not mass produced, so you can open your own bottle and not be dismayed by a syrupy fountain soda.

Glasgow: I love quaint restaurant locations. I always find that small or “hole in the wall” locations have the best food, and I wasn’t disappointed at La Gringa Taqueria. I sometimes find restaurants in the village a bit watered-down, so it was great to see this beacon of refreshing artistic pleasure. The interior is alive with the wonderful work of local mural artist, Danielle Mastrion, who perfectly captured the essence of the Day of the Dead in her artwork for La Gringa. It also boasts rustic wood tables, chairs, and benches curated by the owner, and a sense of being tucked away, which made La Gringa feel homey. Customers are not rushed and we got the sense of being welcomed for hours. It’s a great place to escape and savor your meal.

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All in all, it was a fantastic gastronomy experience that I hope to indulge in again very soon. We advise anyone who’s not familiar to get acquainted asap. For those who have been to La Gringa Taqueria, what was your favorite dish?

 

La Gringa Taqueria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Review: Ornella Trattoria Italiana

The restaurant girls are back once again to bring you our tales of foodie adventures. You all know how we love to make reviews and give advice for people who eat out often – just like us! Just the other day, we had a good conversation about the AMEX Gold Card and how we should look into the possibility of getting it to help us foodies financially. Anyway, in this restaurant review, Christine Ongsueng, and I are traveled all the way to Astoria, Queens (okay the trip out there wasn’t that bad), to bring you our review of Ornella Trattoria Italiana, a fine dining regional Italian restaurant which offers innovative dishes, organic ingredients, recipes passed down from generations, and pasta dishes which boasts pasta made fresh on site.

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Our host for the evening was none other than Ornella Trattoria Italiana‘s owner Giuseppe Viterale, a man who truly loves and appreciates food, and loves sharing stories about the history of food, tips and tricks, and his favorite dish (Pasta Fagioli), and of course, regaling his customers on what they’re eating. We learned more about Italian cooking in one evening than I’ve ever known in my entire life.

Aperitif – Negroni Cocktail

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Chris: What a wake-up call to the taste buds! This aperitif was too spirited for me but then again I’m a lightweight who is also not into spiced grapefruit drinks though one swig was all it took to shake my bleary eyes open and ready my appetite.

Glasgow: This traditional Italian cocktail featured three things I am not a fan of: Campari. I’m not a fan of bitter cocktails but as Chris stated, it certainly woke up my taste buds and did pep me up. Funny enough I grew up in a house where Campari was the norm, my family would absolutely berate me for not finishing this aperitif.

Burrata – 1st Course

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Chris: The perfect starter: soft and creamy burrata, prosciutto, and peach slices with some balsamic reduction sauce. I would have been happy with just the prosciutto and the burrata, but the peach slices were a refreshing bonus! The balsamic reduction was also noteworthy because it added to the complementing lightness of the peach.

Glasgow: I’ve always loved the combination of savory and sweet, especially when the sweet part is light. Giuseppe sometimes likes to go off-menu, something I end up enjoying all evening. This dish traditionally is “fresh mozzarella filled with creamy ricotta ovearugolla with tomato & spiced walnuts”, but as you can see he paired it with peach slices and prosciutto turning it into a perfect seasonal starter.

Bruschetta di NDUJA

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Glasgow: I consider this part of the first course only because they were brought out around the same time but this simple, different take on bruschetta was a welcomed starter. I’m usually fighting to keep the tomato on the bread whenever I take a bite on traditional bruschetta, it was nice not to have to do so, and the incorporation of spicy sausage (don’t worry its not too spicy), is a delicious addition.

Orecchiette – 2nd Course

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Chris: With the overwhelming heat and humidity of summer, one does not always want to eat heavy meals. The summer pasta was the unexpectedly perfect dish for this sweltering season. I know what you’re thinking– pasta is a heavy food, but when you have the right proportion of savory and fruity, then it becomes a delectable summer dish. And yes, that was just another curveball thrown at you– fruit in pasta– a cantaloupe to be exact. Trust me– it sounds weird, but it works. Pasta in the shape of shells, mixed with prosciutto, and cantaloupe topped off with grated cheese makes for a light balance of sweet, salty, and juicy. The seemingly opposing flavors just melds together in a symphony of tastes.

Glasgow: Another wonderful trip off-menu, Giuseppe took the wonderful, vegetarian Orecchiette con RABE dish and “summer-ized” it. Switching out the broccoli rabe and sundried tomato for prosciutto and lightly sweet and crisp cantaloupe, not only has he lightened up the pasta dish to levels even dieters can rejoice, he’s added a new flavor element and created a perfect, light, summer dish that I’d personally enthusiastically eat for lunch and dinner every day. Deliciousness abounds with and without grated cheese.

Pasta di Castagna aka Chestnut Pasta – 3rd Course

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Chris: Yes as in the ones roasting in an open fire. This is definitely something very different. I happen to love Chestnuts and turning it into the flour for the pasta is nothing short of genius. Sweet and earthy, this is a unique dish to be experienced. You’ll be surprised at first because a heavy nutty essence is not something you associate with for a pasta dish but after a couple of more mouthfuls, your mouth will delight in its fascinatingly complex taste.

Glasgow: Have you ever eaten something so delicious, that your body reacts so very pleasurably, with involuntary actions like eye twitching? That is what happened to me when I had my first forkful of this incredibly rich, decadent pasta. If you’re a fan of pasta with a creamy, slightly sweet distinctive taste, this gluten-free, grayish pasta made from ground chestnuts is for you. For those of you with celiac disease or other gluten intolerances and allergies, run, don’t walk to Ornella Trattoria and order a plate for yourself. You will dream about the creamy pistachio sauce peppered with truffle oil, and may find yourself asking your table-mate if they’re going to finish theirs….they will…you might as well order an extra.

Pizzoccheri aka Buckwheat Pasta – 4th Course

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Chris: Pasta wise, I did not think anything could top off the Chestnut, but after this was placed before me and I got a taste of it, I had a new favorite. While this does not stray too far from what one thinks pastas could be made out of, it is still a different take on pasta making tradition.The buckwheat flour turned into wide flavorful ribbons mixed in with garlic, olive oil, and roasted potatoes is the perfect combination of hearty, healthy, and heavenly.

Glasgow: an incredibly delicious pasta, no doubt, but my taste buds were already under the spell of the Chestnut Pasta. This makes another great option for those that are on a gluten-free diet since the flour is made out of ground whole grain buckwheat. The dish is a medley of flavors and textures thanks to its potatoes, cabbage, and Fontina cheese. I believe if I hadn’t tried the Pasta di Castagna, this would’ve surely been my favorite pasta dish.

Tenderloin Pork with Tuna – 5th Course

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Chris: Yet another creative concoction that sounds unusually opposing at first but actually works. Thin slices of lean pork tenderloins served as a base for tuna topped with olives. The “other white meat,” i.e. the pork, provided for a more solid structure and balance for the soft tuna.

Glasgow: This was an interesting break in the meal and something not on the menu. You may think it strange at first to have these two proteins together, but it actually worked. I believe this dish to be a spin on vitello tonnato, which is veal with tuna sauce. The tuna, (served as a thick sauce on top of cold, thin-sliced pork) of course dominated the palate but I found it refreshing as a summer dish.

Duck Meatballs – 6th Course

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Chris: I’m usually skeptical when I hear people are really into something, because it is usually a silly fashion trend or a hybrid of breakfast pastries, but the exception is duck meatballs. Everyone and anyone who has ever tasted them will start proselytizing about this amazing amazing AMAZING creation. I am a big fan of duck to begin with, and have had them in many different ways, but I have never tasted them quite like this. There are no words to explain the sheer orgasmic joy of biting into one of these orbs of culinary perfection (no, really it was an out of body experience as witnessed by fellow blogger Lucky Seven Ten. Made with a blend of mozarella, fontina, ricotta, and raisins plunged into a brandy based sauce, I was easily converted and will be singing its praises for as long as I live.

Glasgow: This was the dish I was really looking forward to trying. Ornella is famous for their Duck Meatballs and after one bite, you will see…eh…taste why. When you’re ordering that extra plate of Chestnut Pasta to go, make sure you do the same with the Duck Meatballs. I’m not at all ashamed to say, I heartily ate and took home, these sweet mounds of juicy duck, filled with various cheeses, and immersed in a divine raisins and brandy-based sauce. DAMN it’s delicious. It may ruin you for other dishes. I think I floated on air and my eyes, along with several others) rolled into the back of our heads in this trip to foodie heaven. This is a dish that would convert a vegetarian, that’s how delicious it is.

Sgroppino – Last Cocktail

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Chris: Now this is how every meal should end. Traditionally made with limoncello and sorbet, Giuseppe yet again improved on something already in existence when he noticed that the sorbet and the vodka tended to separate like oil and water. So instead of sorbet, he used lemon Italian ice. He then mixed in vodka and a splash of white wine for a light and refreshing end to a parade of deliciousness.

Glasgow: After so many courses, naturally we had no room for dessert, so Giuseppe offered this perfect palate cleanser and finisher for the hot summer night. To say this drink was delicious and refreshing is an understatement. Very much a sophisticated slushy, the combination of Italian Lemon Ice (Lemon Granita), vodka, and white wine, seems tailor-made for the season.

The Setting

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Chris: So let’s get this out of the way– yes, it’s in Queens (completely coming from a staunch Manhattanite). But it’s completely worth the trip and it’s only Astoria. Astoria’s been one of those up and coming neighborhoods for a while now so there’s been an expected outcropping of popular eateries. But the unassuming facade of Ornella makes you almost walk right past it and makes it all the more exciting. Like most of the things we love about the restaurants we review, it’s a hidden gem. I love that it no longer conforms to the restaurant trope of having an overpowering awning or fancy lettering– just a hand painted sign that is both mysterious and inviting. What lies inside is the soul of a home. The trattoria is long and quaint with soft lighting and red drapes hanging from the ceiling, made to make you feel like you’re dining al fresco in the middle of a remote Italian village. The owner and culinary mastermind, Giuseppe Viterale, welcomed us, along with a few other foodies, warmly and treated us like we were family. We were not only given delicious plates of food to consume, but we were also fed bits of history and philosophy. With each dish came a background story on the evolution of Italian cuisine or how Giuseppe creatively enhanced a particular dish before us.

Glasgow: Getting to Astoria from New Jersey is one heck of a trip but I’d gladly do it over and over again to re-experience any of this wonderful meal lineup. The homey outside may look small, but it gives way to a long interior that’s both intimate and rustic. From the soft glow of the overhead lamps, to the draping red ceiling panels, wall decor of and Italian garden, and the open arms of the staff, we felt completely at home, almost as if we were enjoying a family dinner in Naples. I must also make note of the one kinds funny aspect of the restaurant. Giuseppe has plastered his restrooms with all the negative yelp reviews and his sometimes hilarious responses .

Overall and Final Thoughts

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Chris: Wherever you hail from, make the trek to Ornella Trattoria. Bring a date, bring a friend, bring the entire family to a truly unique dining experience. Be forewarned, if you’re expecting the typical Italian fare of spaghetti and meatballs, stick to Little Italy. Come here with an open mind to try something new that your palette and stomach will be all the better for. While Ornella is rooted in tradition it is also a pioneer in ingenuity, mixing and enhancing flavors to create new and exciting dishes; which, as Giuseppe pointed out, can also be applied to life.

Glasgow: Go for the food, go for the knowledge, go for the incredibly service, go for the food (did we already say that?), you won’t be disappointed. Any restaurant that has a soup DJ (yes, they do), and an owner that’s as excited to tell you about the food as you are to eat it is a must! As Chris said, don’t come expecting your typical lasagna or spaghetti and meatballs, you won’t find it here. Instead you will find a delicious adventure that will leave you both sated and knowledgeable. After this experience, I find that it’s a wonderful thing to learn more about what you’re about to eat, it makes you enjoy your meal more.

 

Ornella Trattoria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato