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Italian newcomer salutes its Old World roots

Manducatis Rustica VIG is the brainchild of the offspring of the very well established Manducatis Restaurant, both in Long Island City.Gianna Cerbone (Manducatis is not the family name, it’s Latin for “come and eat”) may have majored in Art History in college, hoping to become a curator, but she was born with a cooking spoon in her mouth.She surrendered to her biological imperative about eight months ago, opening this charmingly retro bakery/café/pizzeria/market/restaurant.

What you first encounter here is a vintage glass case filled with cakes and pastries all coming on to you.“Catch you later, you sweet thing,” you think as you reluctantly venture further inside the café.Your attention may be diverted by Vincent Cerbone’s good luck gift to his daughter: his collection of headshots of ‘40s and ‘50s movie stars given to him by Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios.This comprehensive collection of mid-century Hollywood idols is joined by an exhibition of the work of Long Island City celebrity photographer Tony Vaccaro, featuring such art world luminaries as Georgia O’Keefe and Picasso.

Cerbone’s menu is small, focused, and changes daily.For lunch or a light supper, there is a choice of light, crisp elastic brick oven pizzas, all made with fresh, wonderful ingredients.Dinner is served in the more formal dining room adjacent to the café.Chewy pane di casa, from an unnamed Astoria bakery and fruity olive oil arrive as you consider the dinner options of the day.

Burrrata with focaccia was a cheese lover’s dream.Burrata is a Pugliese specialty made by forming a pouch of fresh mozzarella and filling it with mozzarella curds and fresh cream.It must be very fresh when eaten, and it met that standard with flying colors here.The elastic foccacia was its perfect partner.Tuna carpaccio, arrestingly presented in an overlapping circle of paper thin slices, crisscrossed with a lattice of avocado cream, was a new take on eating sushi-Italian style.Eggplant originata was not without merit, but took a back seat to the two other antipasti.

The standout pasta was fettuccine Bolognese.It was a chunky, meaty classic, with visible bits of carrot and the occasional stray pine nut.Tortellini with speck and cream sauce was liberally specked with speck (similar to Prosciutto), but the combination of rich sauce and rather dense tortellini made it a challenge to eat more than a few bites..

Out of five choices, the entrees that shined were two fish dishes.The rib-eye steak was an enviable piece of well-seasoned meat.It was fortunate that the chef was clairvoyant about our dining companion’s preferences for doneness since she wasn’t asked, but received the right result. Unfortunately, it was unmemorable in its preparation style.Similarly, the hefty and tender pork chop was downright ho- hum for its absence of culinary enhancements.But the lemon sole was a sweet and delicate treat, recently released from its life aquatic.The striped bass Livornese measured up to the sole in a less sweet, more savory way, the flavor of olives permeating the dish.

We revisited the pastry case at the end of our meal in order to hone our desire.The gelati will transport you back to your last trip to Italy.Tiramisu here is storied in the neighborhood.The cupcakes are floral works of art.A two-toned mousse pie reminded us of the nesselrode of our youth, a seemingly extinct dessert.Only the carrot cake came up short.

The Bottom Line

Manducatis Rustica is of the new generation of Italian-American restaurants that hark back more to their Old than New World roots.The artisanal feel is achieved by accepting only the highest quality ingredients, and careful attention to detail in their preparation.That’s Italian.

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