Staten Island may not be known as the culinary center of the world, but in the St. George section, just steps from the Staten Island Ferry you'll find a taste of Italy. Enoteca Maria is an experiment of sorts. Take a handful of ladies from all over Italy and have them prepare dishes in an open kitchen that have been passed on for generations. The result is a wonderful dining experience.
The restaurant itself is bright and airy with exposed brick and sturdy marble tables. It also boasts an extensive Italian wine list, ranging from $8 for a glass of Pinot Grigio from Trentino to $50 for a glass of a 2003 Cordero di Montezemolo from Piemonte. We started with a refreshing Bellini ($8) made with prosecco infused with peach nectar.
On this day our cook was Christina, whose Sicilian roots were showing. Her menu (Each chef prepares different dishes daily.) on this cold winter day meant stew, or in this case Spezzatino di Manzo Della Nonna; a beef stew cooked in a light tomato sauce, and Capuzzelle Alla Siciliano, a baked half sheep's head stuffed with bread crumbs, fresh herbs and sundried tomatoes. But picking bits of meat off a sheep's skull was exactly not our cup of tea, so we found ourselves ordering some of the more simple dishes.
We began with plate of complimentary focaccia topped with sundried tomato and rosemary. It arrived with four small plates filled with peas and chickpeas, roasted zucchini, deep-fried cauliflower, and cubes of frittata. All went perfectly with the house wine infused with apple slices. But that was just the start of a feast that followed.
Minestrone soup ($9), thick and hearty, is smothered with fresh cannellini beans and excellent homemade Italian sausage. Fennel salad gets a splash of citrus from orange wedges and green grapes. My personal favorite was the Gamberetti al Forno ($10); baked shrimps wrapped in pancetta and served atop a bed of baby artichokes. That alone could serve as a meal. But then you might miss out on the Zuppa di Cozze & Vongole ($15), a large bowl of mussels and clams in a garlicky wine sauce. Make a note to ask for more focaccia for dipping, or just use the shells to slurp down some extra sauce. It's that good. We also enjoyed a salad of fresh chick peas with a red onion and tomato, and a margherita pizza ($10) that was thick and doughy, topped with mozzarella and fresh basil.
We sampled two pasta dishes on the menu this night; Farfalle con Ganberetti e Rape ($15) which consisted on bowtie pasta sauteed with shrimps and broccoli rabe in a garlic sauce. I'm not a big fan of broccoli rabe which can be very bitter. But this was prepared beautifully. Our favorite was Cavatelli Della Domenica($15); cavatelli pasta in a rich red tomato sauce served with a handful of plump juicy meatballs. Simply delicious. By now we were pretty full with one more entree to go. It was Salmone Origanato ($20), a thick salmon filet slathered with a garlicky mix of breadcrumbs, herbs and sundried tomatoes. Unfortunately, it was slightly over-cooked, something Christina spotted during a visit to our table and proceeded to scold her assistant in Italian.
But for us, all was forgiven. We were content and happy to be celebrating my son's eighth birthday with a slice of homemade cake topped whipped cream and fresh berries, and some of the best espresso you'll find on Staten Island. To the ladies of Enoteca Maria... salute!