2018-05-23 / Restaurant of the Week

TAZZINA

Tazzina is an homage to old school Italian restaurants in the 40s and 50s which are often the backdrop of classic films such as “The Godfather” and “Goodfellas.” The décor is classy, with exposed brick and red walls adorned with black and white family photos, reflecting his humble roots. Chef/owner Jason Zukas was born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens, and schooled at home in his Italian-American home, and in kitchens all over New York and beyond. A vintage subway poster on the wall details his path through the city. After winning a competition on the Food Network’s “Chopped,” his future was sealed. Tazzina, which means “little cup,” opened in 2011 in his native Queens and boy are we happy to have it so close to home. Chef Jason puts a modern touch on classic Italian dishes and makes everyone feel at home in his cozy restaurant.

At the bar up front, you’d almost expect Frank Sinatra or Ray Liotta to walk in to the sounds of cocktails being shaken. My “Goodfella” cocktail exemplified the ambience, as did my friend’s “Sicilian Sunrise,” mixed with fine tequila, orange, fresh lime, and basil. The wines are great too, and reasonably priced. There are salumi and cheese boards available for two to four people for snacking at the bar or enjoying at your table. The service is polite and efficient, and the overall vibe is relaxed and unpretentious, so just sit back and enjoy a meal here without an agenda. Just next to our table, a group of 12 friends and family members were celebrating two birthdays with joy.

We let Chef Jason choose our menu which included some of the house favorites such as truffled gnocchi, made by hand with potato and lighter than air, infused with the rich scent of mushrooms, asparagus, peas, prosciutto, and basil ($14). This wonderful dish can be ordered as a main pasta course as well. Next, the eye-popping eggplant Caprese tower is a “condo” of crisp, breaded eggplant slices, layered with rounds of buttery mozzarella, juicy heirloom tomato, and basil, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil for a visual and gustatory treat that begs to be shared ($14). Cast iron octopus is another popular menu item, served sizzling hot with tomato, capers, and olives, and feta cheese. You ought to order a salad for the table, be it the excellent shaved fennel salad, wedge salad, or roasted beet salad with oranges, goat cheese, oregano, and hazelnuts.

Tazzina’s pasta dishes are exemplary, from the classic spaghetti pomodoro with San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil and pecorino Romano cheese to rigatoni country style, with sausage, broccoli, cannellini beans, garlic, and white wine. You’ll also find handmade cavatelli with pork ragu, topped with a dollop of fresh ricotta and sizzled rosemary ($24). Don’t worry goom-bah, we got your linguine and clam sauce right hee-yah! The “Siciliana” tosses rigatoni with eggplant, tomato, peas, and ricotta, topped with toasted breadcrumbs for a dish that will fuel your next feat.

Tazzina has great fish dishes, so dive right into grilled branzino, served with spicy broccoli rabe, white bean puree, olives, peppers, and lemon ($25). We loved shrimp scampi “Casino Style” with sautéed spinach, smoky bacon, and roasted peppers. Wow, was this delicious! Meat lovers will love the pork chop Contadina “farmer” style, with sausage, roasted peppers, onions, mushrooms and potatoes. Herb roasted chicken “under a brick” is the ultimate in comfort food, served with fingerling potatoes, escarole, and onions. I was happy to see chicken scarpariello on the menu, with sausage and cherry peppers to complement the tender chicken. Chef Jason is always looking to add new items to his menu and we were honored to have tried one of his new culinary fantasies. Imagine chicken pizza where the crust is made of chicken. Chef Jason grinds fresh, organic chicken into a large patty, then breads it and fries it, then tops it with mozzarella and tomato for a chicken pizza that offers lots of protein and flavor. Specials of the evening included grilled watermelon salad, sea bass with zucchini ribbons and artichokes, and chicken parmigiana with prosciutto.

Try to save some room for Nutella lava cake for dessert which is surprisingly light and not overly sweet. There’s also a cannoli cream filled donut with cinnamon sugar and espresso gelato that will bring a smile to your face, and warm apple caramel cake served with cinnamon gelato and salted caramel sauce.

Visit Tazzina or you’ll be missing out on some excellent Italian food, great ambience, and the exuberant personality of Chef Jason Zukas. Plan your intimate celebration here with small groups accommodated. Check out Tazzina’s very affordable Prix Fixe menu served Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for just $30. The website has great photos and lots of history. Street parking is easy and the vibe is old-world and relaxed, with a modern twist.

102-15 Metropolitan Avenue
Forest Hills  718.374.3890

www.tazzinany.com

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