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Mezza Luna translates to half moon. But when it opened six years ago, I didn't disclose why. Chef and owner Pasquale grew up in the Bronx on Arthur Avenue where Half Moon was a then-famous pizzeria - hence the name.
Pasquale is a self-taught chef with stints in a number of pizzeria restaurants plus four years in a pastry shop. Needless to say, breads and all desserts are made in house.
If you're dining indoors at Mezza Luna, select a night when there will be a number of diners. The restaurant is huge and works best when people liven it. And if the lights seem low, say so. They'll gladly turn them up. In the floor-to-ceiling wine rack in the dining room, the 60 different wines (and you're free to peruse) range from Sicilian (where Pasquale was born) to Piemontese (where he grew up), plus some Californians and French vintages.
The takeout menu's cover sets the tone for this Northern/Southern neighborhood cafe/restaurant. There's a photo of Pasquale's Dad holding Pasquale's son, another Pasquale. All the family members work there. Mezza Luna is staffed by the Catinella family.
We had some high-falutin appetizers at this family restaurant. I had the oysters Bordighera. Oysters in Bordighera, a town in Northern Italy, are said to be the Mediterranean's best. I certainly swooned over my serving. Take your oysters Rockefeller. I'll take Bordighera any day. The oysters were unusually large, set on an oversized plate in a puddle. The delectable spinach and bacon covering was saucelike. Don't look for an oyster fork. The soup spoon is the way to go.
My dining companion had quail alla rustico. What was so great about its presentation was that it was halved (no need to wrestle the whole bird) on a bed of just-lightly sautéed Romaine. Lemon and rosemary in a light, brown sauce added just the right touch.
There's also a shrimp alla Pasquale appetizer that was ritzy as well - an artichoke is involved. Of course, with a bit of Sicily in Pasquale's background, there's eggplant rolatini with ricotta and mozzarella in tomato sauce.
We split a mesclun salad. The pristine baby greens (just greens, that's it) had an acidic dressing, actually a bit too acidic. Interesting: my guest informed the waiter - about to snatch the plate away - "I'm saving this salad to eat with my pasta." Good idea to save some salad for the pasta that followed.
Cappelinni alla Giovanni followed with sautéed spinach and chicken in a white wine sauce. The cappelinni were tremendous in size. Pasta is prominent in Mezza Luna's menu: gnocchi, manicotti and homemade cheese or meat ravioli, tagliatelli. I want to try their spaghetti Sicilian with sautéed sardines and black olives in a tomato sauce.
Have you noticed that many restaurants name dishes for members of the family? Shrimp alla Lilliana is named for Pasquale's wife. My shrimp were six batter-dipped beauties. I didn't thrill (others do) over the sauce which seemed to compete with rather than complement the shrimp. (Incidentally, Parmigiana lovers take note. There's shrimp parm and also eggplant, chicken and veal parm.)
Do try the Italian cheesecake, creamier than most Italian cheesecakes, with huge bits of candied fruit. There's also chocolate mousse in a cup, a chocolate layer cake, Sicilian cassata (Wish I had tried it. I had a cassata baking lesson in Sicily.) and fresh cannoli all made in-house.
On some sunny weekend you can enjoy it all underneath the grape vines.
The Bottom Line
Neighborhood Northern / Southern Ital-ian cafe/restaurant. Dining on rustic patio under grape vines on warm weather weekends. Family staffed. Warm, friendly service. Good food and wine list.
12-02 149th Street Whitestone
Oysters Bordighera (served with a light creamy sauce)...$11.95
Shrimp all Pasquale (artichoke in a creamy garlic sauce)...$9.95
Cappellini alla Giovanni (sautéed spinach & chicken in a white wine sauce)...$10.95
Spaghetti alla Frutti di Mare (shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari, plum tomatoes)...$14.95
Veal Mezza Luna (sautéed spinach & provolone cheese, baked)...$18.95
Shrimp alla Lilliana (sautéed eggplant & diced tomato in a lemon sauce)... $18.95
Chocolate Mousse (in a cup)...$4.50
Sicilian Cassata (with custard & cookies)...$4
Cuisine: Northern/southern Italian
Setting: Rustic patio under grape vines on summer weekends
Service: Warm & friendly
Hours: Closed Mon. L&D Tues -Sun
Parking: Street. No meters
Location: Main Street
Private Parties: From 30 to 90
Outdoor dining: Warm weather weekends
Credit Cards: All major
Noise level: Moderate
Handicap access: Yes
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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