From old-school pizzerias to upscale trattorias, Italian restaurants are as deep-rooted in our area as olive trees in Italy. But even in a crowded playing field, newcomer Fortina is generating buzz. The food straddles retro and contemporary with Italian-American favorites such as a pork braciole with Sunday sauce and fried meatballs served alongside burrata with vino cotto, giardinera and simple-but-delicious wood-fired vegetables. After opening first in Armonk, Fortina added a second restaurant in Rye Brook, and a Stamford Harbor Point location is expected in early fall; all are owned by Rob Krauss, John Nealon and chef Christian Petroni, former Barcelona chef and a past winner on Chopped.
While Armonk has more ambiance with its lofty, barn-like restaurant and ample patio, Rye Brook is convenient, an industrial space with glass-fronted doors that fold open to sidewalk seating. At both locations, it’s a party-like atmosphere with fairly loud acoustics and a quirky mix of music playing. Where else would you hear “You’re So Vain,” “Sister Christian” and “How Will I Know?” within a half hour span? It’s not the spot for quiet date nights or dinner with your hard-of-hearing parents, but definitely fun.
We visited for an early Friday night dinner with extended family and spotted a few ladies’-night-out groups at the bar plus a ten-year-old birthday party wrapping up; nearly every table was filled, and it was almost as hopping on a Wednesday night too. Cool drink options match the vibe, including seventeen original cocktails and pitchers of “mousse juice” (rose, pamplemousse, strawberries and basil), a well-edited beer and wine selection, and a pleasant Pacific Coast pinot noir on tap. When we were choosing between two wines by the glass, our waitress brought over tasting glasses of each.
An antipasti order is a must, whether you veer toward the humble—“hunk of bread & sauce”—or small plates like an arugula salad, char-grilled polpo or wood-roasted bone marrow with parsley toast. Our group was partial to the beets, a mix of golden and red doused in the creamiest whipped robiolona, and the burrata paired with seasonal vegetables (English peas and pea greens the night we went), brown butter and vino cotto.
Pizzas are a huge draw, fired up in a wood-burning oven that fills the whole restaurant with an intoxicating aroma. They’re brought to the table piping hot and rested on upside-down tomato cans. The most classic is the “famous Ray’s,” to which we added meatballs for a simple but perfect pie, with terrific marinara sauce and a crust that’s fairly thin but with a nice chew at the end. Also outstanding: The Luigi Bianco, which tops burrata, robiolona and parmesan cheeses with drizzles of black truffle puree; and the San Gennaro with sausage, peppers and onion.
If the pizza wasn’t so hard to resist, you could make a meal out of the vegetables cooked right in the wood-burning oven for a lightly charred flavor. There’s cauliflower, served with a lush hazelnut romesco sauce, baby carrots with walnut crema, asparagus, sugar-snap peas, sunchokes or whatever’s in season. Chef Christian makes the most of what his father finds that day at the market.
Pastas are made on the premises. Spice lovers will appreciate the pastasciutto and the fusilli; both dishes get a kick from added chili. The tomato, onion and smoked bacon sauce with the fusilli is a knockout, but the pasta wasn’t consistently hot; some bites were room temperature or cooler. A simple ricotta-stuffed ravioli was a table favorite.
What kid or kid at heart can resist a soft-serve ice cream cone? This one is substantial and served tumbled onto a plate. You can’t miss with the tiramisu, one of Christian’s family recipes layered into a lowball glass, but we also had a soft spot for the classic tartufo garnished with sour cherries. The only time service slowed down during our meal was post-dessert. We lingered for fifteen minutes and the check never arrived. I got up to let our server know and she apologized profusely; then she brought our bill with all desserts comped, leaving us with nothing but a good taste in our mouths.
136 S. Ridge Street, Rye Brook, NY,
Mon. – Fri.: 12 p.m.– “all night long”
Sat. and Sun: 5 p.m.– “all night long”
Sun. brunch: 12 p.m.–5 p.m.