There may be 2,000 miles separating Taos from New York City but there’s an easy way to transport yourself there in spirit, your nose following an aroma redolent of the finest Italian restaurants that the city and Long Island have to offer. And it’s right here in the heart of town.
Mondo Italiano is your ticket to “Italian world” in Taos and the most authentic cuisine you’ll find without a plane ticket or a ride on the Long Island Expressway.
Though owner and chef Jennifer DeBow has been a part of the Taos restaurant scene for many years, it wasn’t until two years ago that she and her husband, builder Genaro Jimenez, took the plunge and built in their current location, giving her a sprawling kitchen in which to make her magic while offering customers cozy indoor and breezy outdoor seating areas.
DeBow, after all, grew up on Long Island and fondly recalls the many Italian meals of her youth.
“But here’s the thing — though Italian can be haute cuisine, the best memories come from the comfort of a good pasta or a great slice of pizza from the neighborhood shop,” she said. “I’m very nostalgic about this food and in developing our menu, I sought to re-create those memories. Every dish we offer reminds me of my favorite dishes and restaurants.”
Let yourself adopt those memories as your own as you swoon over the tastes, smells and ambiance of Mondo Italiano. That, after all, is what DeBow wants you to do. “As much as my food is personal to me, I want to make it personal to you, too.”
And she has set the stage well for you. Once you’re greeted and seated, take in the funky overhead lighting, the retro serving area, the de rigueur red-and-white checked tablecloths, the flickering candles. You’re on Little Italy’s Mott Street, ready to enjoy your culinary journey.
Begin your dining experience with Taos Fire House wings, prepared using the original recipe from the Bellissimo family at the Buffalo, New York, Anchor Bar. “Our wings are fried and then covered in butter and cayenne pepper sauce, and served with a side of carrots and celery sticks with either blue cheese or ranch dipping sauce,” the native New Yorker noted.
Or maybe you’re hankering for some calamari fritti, fried Calabro mozzarella sticks or garlic toast. In a nod to her adopted New Mexican home, you’ll also find jalapeño poppers and fried avocado amongst the offerings on the enticing appetizer menu.
Ready for the main event? Dig into a plate of luxurious fettucine al fredo, its sauce of heavy cream, egg yolk, Parmesan and nutmeg elevated beyond these simple ingredients into pure heaven. “It’s definitely our bestseller and can be enhanced with the addition of chicken, shrimp, ahi tuna or Norwegian salmon,” said DeBow.
Equally delicious carbonara and primavera pastas are available, as are your favorite baked dishes such as eggplant or chicken Parmesan, lasagne bolognese and baked manicotti. Maybe you want to keep it simple and just order some spaghetti and meatballs. Mondo has you covered on that, as well.
If it’s seafood you’re craving, DeBow’s contacts in the food industry ensure you’re getting the freshest. Shrimp, calamari, mussels, clams and snow crab combine with Mondo’s stellar marinara sauce in seafood pescatore, which is served to rave reviews over a platter of linguine.
A lush shrimp Bruno — shrimp that’s been lightly floured and sautéed until golden, and finished in a lemon and white wine Dijon mustard sauce — is another of DeBow’s favorites.
“Shrimp Bruno was made famous at the Palm Restaurant in New York City,” she recalled. “This recipe has shown up on menus around the world and ours is the original, and we think the best second only to the Palm’s.”
If you’re not drooling by now, don’t worry — there’s even more on this extensive menu including salads, sides, heroes (that’s New York-speak for a hoagie or a sub) and, most recently, a changing menu of juicy half-pound Angus steak burgers that will satisfy the most devoted meat eater in your family.
Then, of course, there’s pizza.
Chicagoans may argue the point, but there’s nothing like a New York slice with a tender yet sturdy crust that lets you fold it and eat it the New York way while still corralling all those toppings you couldn’t resist adding. No forks or knives necessary here; in fact, they might be heresy.
“Our pizzas and calzones are hand-rolled and made-to-order,” said DeBow, noting they offer dozens of toppings and selections of cheese from which to choose. “A large pie with multiple toppings may take 25 minutes to prepare and bake, so if you’re eating in, then enjoy one of our appetizers or salads while you wait. If you want to take out, or just want your pizza ready when you get here, then we welcome you to phone in your order.
“And if you have special dietary needs, please let us know,” DeBow added. “We have gluten-free and vegan options throughout the menu and will gladly accommodate your requests.”
With your meal you’ve probably enjoyed a selection of craft beers, exclusively Italian wines and wine cocktails, but now it’s time for an espresso and dessert including such standards as cannoli di ricotta, New York cheesecake and tiramisu. However, Mondo’s gelato shop may be what ultimately tempts you with its two dozen creamy, dreamy flavors and a toppings bar with all your favorites. The choice is yours and DeBow certainly doesn’t apologize for making it hard to choose.
“This is as close as I can get to giving locals and visitors an authentic peak into the best of New York’s Italian cuisine,” DeBow smiled. And, she added, don’t forget Mondo Italiano as a venue for your special event or for your catering needs.
Eat in; take out. Either way, your taste buds will say, “Grazie.”
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