Forest Hills’ commercial strip along Metropolitan Avenue has no dearth of Italian eateries. With other cuisines, you can choose from one of this or one of that, but when it comes to Italian, options range from multiple casual pizzerias to full-blown white tablecloth establishments.
A few have come and gone, but most of those still standing have endured the test of time. Villa Isabella falls into the latter category. Its name was changed from Sarabella’s about four years ago when it changed hands, but little else, including the chef and the menu, has.
The décor is sumptuous for a neighborhood joint. Gilt-framed paintings and mirrors adorn the walls, and no horizontal surface is spared its own objet d’art. A white lacquered baby grand occupies a window corner, and a mural-sized street scene featuring a restaurant called Villa Isabella takes up most of one wall. All Bah-Humbug types should be forewarned that they really go to town with their holiday decorations.
The menu is a rather predictable, slightly updated inventory of the Italian hit parade. It’s reassuringly familiar for those who like that, a tad boring to those who don’t. Scanning for something out of the ordinary, we started off with Mozzarella en Carozza. They take a foccacia-type bread, fill it with mozzarella and deep fry it. It is quartered and served with a piquant tomato sauce flavored with garlic, capers. The sauce had complexity with a little kick, and the mozzarella was nice and chewy.
The Caesar salad was an expert rendition of this classic. Just what a Caesar should be.
They do a decent Bolognese sauce which can be had over spaghetti, or for $2 more over whole wheat spaghetti — huh? I’ve never heard of charging extra for whole wheat anything, but they evidently do here. You can also have your Bolognese sauce over potato gnocchi. Don’t. Their gnocchi were gummy and mealy when they should have been springy. A waste of a very pleasant sauce.
Ossobucco lived up to its classic reputation, braised slowly in an earthy brown sauce. The quality of the risotto that accompanied the veal, which would have been pretty decent, was diminished by the careless addition of what looked and tasted like frozen peas and carrots.
Fillet of sole Piccata was a daily special, offered on the prix fixe menu. Sole was a tasty riff on the more typical veal Piccata, and the sauce was flawless. The accompanying veggies were also well executed with tender-crisp carrots and string beans complementing roast potatoes.
Our meal concluded with a sweet ending of freshly made cannoli. The filling was more creamy than cheesy, and filled to order, keeping the pastry nice and crisp. Complimentary Sambuca was served with our espressos.
Villa Isabella serves traditional Italian fare in festive surroundings. On weekdays they offer a three-course prix fixe that delivers plenty of choice and good value. Live piano music happens on weekends. Private parties are accommodated, and there are special menus for every holiday. The wait staff is considerate and professional. Consider Villa Isabella if your office is looking for a destination for a holiday meal.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Villa Isabella of Forest Hills
103-19 Metropolitan Ave
Forest Hills, NY 11375
Price Range: Apps: $6-14, Pasta: $14-18, Mains: $16-32
Cuisine: Classic Italian
Setting: Spacious, glitzy
Service: Professional, attentive.
Hours: Lunch & Dinner daily
Alcohol: Full bar
Parking: Valet on weekends
Dress: Casual to dressy
Music: Piano on weekends
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes
©2011 Community News Group
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