When a restaurant turned out to be closed at our appointed meeting time, our lunch companion suggested an alternative.
Normally, we wouldn’t regard our skinny, punk rocker, vegan, animal activist friend Denise Mercedes as a fertile source of restaurant recommendations. Music venues or veterinarians, yes, dining advice, no. Still, we were on her turf with no ideas of our own, so with some degree of trepidation we acquiesced.
Denise, always a woman of surprises, guided us to Antica Trattoria, a cozy Ridgewood neighborhood Italian restaurant. It turned out to be attractively decorated with tile and murals of the old country, with a menu to match. We enjoyed an exceptional mushroom risotto, and resolved to return for dinner.
Pasta e fagioli soup was just the ticket on the bitterly cold winter night we chose to try Antica for dinner. This pasta and bean classic warmed our insides with soul-satisfying goodness. We followed the soup with two appetizers. Fried calamari, perfectly executed with the lightest of batters and not a trace of rubberiness was paired with a nice zippy tomato sauce for dipping.
We enjoyed the little surprise inside the Polpette — “Piciriddi,” small meatballs stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto in a rich spicy tomato sauce, one of Antica’s signature dishes.
Of our mains, the whole filleted branzino proved that less is more. The success of this dish rested mainly on the freshness and quality of the fish, augmented by a light butter and white wine sauce. It came with a side of perfectly sautéed escarole with garlic.
The Veal Cordon Bleu, also a daily special, was less of a success. The veal had been pounded into submission leaving it thin and dry instead of succulent. Yes, veal pounding is part of the preparation of this dish, but in this case it passed the point of diminishing returns. The ham and cheese were tasty, but didn’t compensate for the lackluster veal. It also arrived tepid. The accompanying linguini and sauce was up to snuff.
Grandma’s Cake, (a,k.a. Torta della Nonna), our dessert of choice, was a lemon tart with pine nuts on top. It was a sweet ending.
Antica Trattoria is the kind of comfortable neighborhood restaurant that every nabe needs. Its menu is both tempting and familiar, its service friendly and professional, and prices affordable. They make their own pasta, and serve pizza as well as their more formal menu. And by the way, if you’d like to see our friend Denise Mercedes in action, she will be performing at the Global Black Sabbath Convention on Feb. 24 at Slake NYC (251 W. 30th St.).
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 qnsfo
68-10 Fresh Pond Road
Price Range: Appetizers:$9-$11; $12-$22
Setting: Small, well appointed
Service: Friendly and attentive
Hours: Open seven days noon - 10 p.m.
Alcohol: Wine and Beer
Children: Welcome, pizza always a good option
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes
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