Although Manetta's has a special "old time favorites" section on the menu, the truth is that everything feels like an old-time favorite at this trattoria in Long Island City. Landscapes hang on the walls and roses adorn the tables. Servers wear crisp white shirts and aprons. Nobody came out and said "mangi, mangi," but it could happen. The Italian food isn't clichéd so much as familiar. And, sometimes, there's nothing wrong with a little familiarity.
We started with a special, mozzarella and kale ($12). Among the green shreds were wilted capers, pine nuts, and razor-thin slices of garlic. Olive oil mitigated, but didn't eradicate, the saltiness from the capers and the mozzarella, as well as the bitterness from the kale and the garlic. Overall, this appetizer had unexpected strength, like a firm handshake welcoming you somewhere new.
As our second starter, we tried a side of meatballs ($5). Nothing innovative here, just the simple pleasure of ground beef, egg, and breadcrumbs buried beneath enough bright, fresh tomato sauce to keep your bread hand busy long after the meatballs are gone.
When we saw the steak knife accompanying the shrimp parmigiana ($19), we briefly wondered what kind of tough nugget we'd be eating. As it turns out, the shrimp stayed moist within their bread crumb coating and topping of mozzarella. The spaghetti side came covered in the same tomato sauce as the meatballs, and made us feel sorry for the dried pasta we keep in our cupboards.
We also tried a pasta special, cavatelli with mushrooms, chopped tomatoes, and sausage ($17.50). Marscapone provided the link among pasta, vegetable, and meat, rendering it all creamy and friendly. The longer the dish stayed at the table, the richer it got, as flavors released or absorbed, mingling rather than separating. In this, the ingredients were similar to the groups around us, who stayed long after their plates had been cleared.
Manetta's puts the family in "family style." By 6 p.m., just about every table was taken, full of couples or couples with kids, whose aria competed, not unpleasantly, with the divas on the stereo. It's a lively place, a place full of regulars, of people who drive in from other boroughs or the suburbs. We ate there on a Friday, but it felt like Sunday dinner. Manetta's is best for: a domestic date.
10-76 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101 (map) 718-786-6171