Why This Italian Newbie Is the Talk of the Astoria Dining Scene

Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Astoria’s Greek dining scene is massive, but it’s a family-owned and -operated Italian spot that’s currently the talk of the neighborhood. Buzz has been surrounding Ninos AQ ever since brothers (and Astoria natives) Michael and Franco Vendome announced the project last summer. The excitement has only amplified since its December opening, with a constantly packed dining room and glowing reviews across social media. Thankfully, the trattoria has lived up to the hype on the excellence of its ravioli alone. But there are plenty more reasons to eat here right now. Read on, and buon appetito!

Italian dishes have a kiss of global influence...

Compared to the timeless red-sauce joints spattered around the area, Ninos AQ presents a rare reimagination of the cuisine with surprising ingredients not often seen on a nonna’s dinner plate. Roasted carrots sit atop a punchy Middle Eastern pomegranate molasses; charred octopus tentacles twist and turn around green mango strands over a vibrant zucchini puree; and skirt steak is crusted in coffee grounds and dotted with bits of black garlic. As for the personal pizzas, they come topped with eccentric pairings like spicy ’nduja spread and avocado honey, stretched Caciocavallo and vodka sauce, and lobster cream and pickled tomatoes.
Ninos AQ Photo courtesy of Ninos AQ/Facebook
Its biggest standout, showcasing the Vendome brothers’ vision, is the ravioli. An earthy sunchoke puree sits inside the pasta's core, and it's tossed in a tomatillo sauce that doubles as a culinary burst of sunshine; sprinkled on top are fresh, succulent purslane leaves and caramelized salsify root strips both buttery and meaty in flavor. It may not suit everyone’s taste preferences, but its daring nature certainly catered to mine.

...but the straightforward classics are excellent.

If you’re more of a purist, the trattoria-style dishes won't disappoint. The fried burrata is perfectly creamy on the inside and surrounded by a marinara moat you’d want to swim laps in. The veal Parmesan is big enough for hungry romantics, but one notable celebrity attempted to tackle the mammoth cut by himself. In terms of dessert, Ninos remains as traditional as they come, with a tall layered tiramisu and a hazelnut-and-currant–speckled chocolate “salami” (ganache rolled into a log).

After dinner, grab drinks at Singlecut Beersmiths.

Ninos AQ Photo by Karen N./Yelp

The libations cater to modern drinkers.

Mezcal mixed with carrot juice and Negronis on tap aren’t what you’d expect from the average restaurant, but Ninos AQ's creative cocktails could easily compete with the top-tier drink destinations down the Ditmars strip. The Tuscan Breakfast (a Bloody Maria–inspired beverage with Cholula and Tuscan kale swirling around in the glass) and an East-meets-West old-fashioned (Japanese whiskey and a sake-infused simple syrup stirred with bitters made in Long Island City) are such examples. Italian sippers like the rye-forward Manhattan and classic martinis also remain crowd-pleasers. Its wine list, meanwhile, reads like a record of current trends in the industry. The majority of the featured wineries practice organic methods, and several varietals are completely sustainable, biodynamic, and natural. As for the prices, many bottles come in under $60, which is very reasonable for deal-seeking drinkers looking to quench their thirst.

And yet you can feel the old-school inspiration throughout.

Right around its December opening, Franco stated in an Astoria Post article that Ninos AQ “is a family restaurant.” Even with aesthetic elements you’d commonly find in the West Village instead of western Queens (textured teal wallpaper, quotes written in electrifying neon lights, Kanye West tweets gold-framed in the bathroom), you can feel the familial love at the eatery’s core. Mounted on its brick walls are black and white photos of the Vendome family in action—cooking in the kitchen, entertaining dinner guests—long before Michael and Franco were even in the picture. The soundtrack, steering clear from the recent trend of hiring  expert curators to manage restaurants’ tunes, is the type of crooning you’d hear from a famiglia’s record player in the 1950s: Perry Como, Tony Bennett, and Dean Martin and the rest of the Rat Pack. Not to sound cliché, but that’s amore to us!
Ninos AQ Photo by Amanda A./Yelp

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