I had just taken the bus from Williamsburg and was now having visions of an Italian nonna feeding her husband nearly every bite of food on his plate. It was six o’clock on a Monday and I was in Forest Hills, Queens, enjoying the simple but excellent bruschetta laid before me. Sitting under a vaulted ceiling in a room with stained-glass windows and red carpeting, I felt as if I were eating in a former church, instead of one of the best old-school Italian restaurants in any of New York’s boroughs. Let me introduce you to Alberto (98-31 Metropolitan Avenue, 718-268-7860).
Since 1973, Alberto has been serving this once-thriving Italian community a taste of home in a classic setting. “People really serve you here!” my companion exclaimed. Wearing whiter-than-white, crisply starched shirts, members of the waitstaff attentively tended to our table throughout the meal.
The large paper menu at Alberto is long on classic items, but no diner who seemed like a regular was ever handed one. “Maybe you start with the seafood salad, and we have a great carpaccio,” proclaimed Silvana Chiappelloni, co-owner of Alberto with her brother Roberto. Silvana has been running the show here for the last 30-plus years. “We give you just a taste of each; that way you have more room.” With her warm Italian accent and smile, Chiappelloni made us feel we were eating in her own kitchen.
The seafood salad — with chilled marinated mussels and fresh red and yellow peppers — was simple and thoughtfully prepared, and the carpaccio nicely marbled, served atop arugula. Oh, and let’s not forget the current specials at Alberto, because we sure heard about them. At least ten were described to us, from osso buco to fresh New Zealand rack of lamb.
We sampled bruschetta, a warm baguette with melted parmesan cheese, and the house special pasta, tortelli filled with three cheeses and swiss chard, which was delicate and creamy.
The finishing touch to our meal was introduced when the famed dessert tray made an appearance at our table. Although we were pleasantly filled, we were talked into a half-order of zabaglione: fresh strawberries with a marsala-doused custard topping. It was decadent and delicious and gave us a nice finishing buzz, which made the bus ride back a lot more fun.
For most, Alberto is a destination restaurant — it’s about a 40-minute jaunt from Williamsburg on the Q54, all the way down Metropolitan Avenue. Aside from the excellent hospitality and food, a compelling reason to make the trip is to find some outrageously affordable picks on their wine list. A 1992 Ornellaia is $90; a 1988 Salon Champagne, at least $399 retail, is priced at $220. “My ideal meal here would be Salon 1988 with the Trio de Funghi [$13],” says Caleb Ganzer, wine director at La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels. “I would skip white and move straight into red.”
Go soon before NYC somms find out.