Only open since July, Trattoria Neo in Whitestone has taken excellence to a new level.
The owners call it casual dining, but there is nothing off-hand about the service, food or decor of this new eatery located at 15-01 149 St.
Neo stands for Neopolitan, a particular way of preparing Italian food, according to restaurant manager Spyro. Buffalo mozzarella is a Neopolitan specialty as are certain vegetables, such as eggplant and broccoli rabe.
Owner and Executive Chef Joseph D’Angelo puts his particular spin on the cuisine and you won’t be disappointed. D’Angelo is well-versed in his craft, having served at the Union Square Cafe, Esca and Spigolo in Manhattan.
For starters, we had his delicious signature crispy eggplant meatballs in tomato sauce. Instead of ground meat, the chef substituted cooked eggplant and added his special magic to the dish.
We also tried crispy calamari, which was the best we’ve ever had. The pieces were small, sweet and tender and the chef serves it with a well-matched basil aioli and lemon mayonnaise. Spyro says one reason the dish is so good is the clean cooking oil that’s always used.
Neo’s wait staff was helpful, professional and prompt. Our waiter, Adam, made sure the meal was perfect, and it was.
We next shared an order of linguine with Manila clams, chiles and pancetta and loved it. The hint of heat and saltiness from the pancetta made this dish a standout.
As we waited for our entree, we couldn’t help but admire the setting. There are exposed brick walls, paneling, copper pans and a fireplace. It’s homey yet sophisticated; a great combination for dining.
I was interested to see how the chef prepared broccoli rabe and ordered the grilled strip steak florentino, which came with crispy Yukon gold potatoes and broccoli rabe. Broccoli rabe can be very bitter, but mine was not. I asked the chef if he had a secret in preparation and he attributed the lack of bitterness to buying the best available sources. As to the potatoes, they literally exploded in your mouth with crispness and taste.
Needless to say, the steak was also cooked to perfection: juicy and flavorful.
My companion tried the monkfish roasted with tomato, clams, sausage and broccoli rabe. The fish has a mild taste, often compared to lobster. Trattoria Neo’s version once again hit the mark.
The restaurant has a full-service bar and features a happy hour, Monday through Friday, noon to 7 p.m.
It was hard to save room for dessert but we managed to down most of the panna cotta and a stuffed nutella pizzeta.
Panna cotta is an Italian speciality made from milk, cream, sugar and gelatin. This version was served with fresh pomegranate in a light sauce. Delightful.
The unusual nutella pizzeta resembles a pizza, but the crust is crisper and sandwiched between the two layers is the chocolate-hazelnut filling. A dolllop of chocolate gelato accompanied it. It’s a chocolate lover’s dream.
Trattoria Neo is open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner is served Monday through Wednesday from 5-10 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 5-11 p.m., and Sunday, 5-10 p.m. Sunday brunch runs 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.