Sapori D’Ischia is so out in the middle of nowhere that when my boyfriend and I approached–after getting lost no less than twice–and I said, “I’m not sure this is the right place,” the owner, who happened to be standing outside, said, “Trust me; it’s the right place. There’s nothing else around here.”
You always hear about people who haven’t been to one of the outer boroughs in ten years because they think everything worth seeing is in Manhattan. Well, I actually live in Brooklyn and get annoyed at the prospect of having to leave Manhattan, so if I’m telling you that it’s worth it to trek out to Sapori D’Ischia’s truffle festival, you know it’s something special.
The four-course, $60 prix-fixe menu seems to change weekly, but here’s an idea of what you’ll be served:
ricottina di bufala, Speck Alto Adige D.O.P. smoked prosciutto, peasant bread, white Alba truffles
I know that everyone’s all, “Truffle oil?! For shame!” (Especially if you’re watching an episode of “Chopped“, where the judges famously chop almost any contestant who dares insult them with truffle oil.) The idea is that truffles are real and expensive and delicate, while truffle oil is synthetic and cheap and kind of knocks you out with how odorous it is. But I like my food to smell like food, so I don’t have a problem with it. I also loved the additional texture of it in this dish, which otherwise would have been much less creamy. All of the flavors were so rich, smoky, and earthy, perfectly-suited for complimenting the truffle shavings.
Vialone Nano slow-cooked risotto, white Alba truffles
My good friends over at Wikipedia tell me that Vialone Nano is one of the two best and most expensive varieties of risotto rice. I’m not sure I’m versed enough in risotto to know the difference, but I thought this dish was about as good as it could have been for what it was, which was risotto and truffles. Again, this was heavy on the truffle oil, but I didn’t find it overpowering, and the dish probably would have been bland without it. I wouldn’t have complained about the addition of some sort of meat, but the plain risotto was the perfect vehicle for highlighting the truffle.
grilled filet mignon, rustic potato fontina tortina, Barbaresco red wine reduction, white Alba truffles
When I think of a juicy steak, I picture a piece three inches high and squishy in the center, so I was a little skeptical about this thinly-sliced version, but all of our filets were nice and red in the center. The creamy sauce only made it that much more melt-in-your-mouth, while the red wine sauce cut some of the richness. The potato cake actually tasted very vegetal to me–like it was made of something actually healthy–so I was surprised to re-read the menu and see it was just potato. It was a hearty cross of crunchy and creamy that added to the rustic feel of the dish.
The people at the table next to us were celebrating a birthday, and I loved the sparkler the birthday girl was given. I’m trying to figure out if the guy across from her is whistling or licking ice cream off his fingers.
Brachetto-poached Bosc pear, mascarpone white chocolate gelato, white truffle honey
This dish looks deceptively simple but managed to leave us satisfied, likely due to the richness of the truffle honey drizzled over the gelato. The pear was spicy and tender and not overly sweet, which was perfect for the savoriness of the truffle and mascarpone. This seemed to be everyone’s favourite dish of the night, if the utter silence of our group of six (including newcomer Lucy!) after we dug in is any indication.
I have to rate this meal purely by the quality of the food, because the restaurant is not only way, way out there but also partly a grocery store, so the decor mostly consists of jumbo cans of peeled tomatoes. Considering, though, that my meal was not only delicious but also cost less in its entirety than a single truffle course at any Manhattan restaurant I can think of, I’d say it’s well worth the train ride and having to stare at the canned goods. The truffle festival ends when the truffle supply does, and the menu changes often, so go quickly and frequently.
5515 37th Avenue
Queens, NY 11377 (map)