Stella Luna Stazione on Market Street in Oneonta was recently rated a "three-diamond" restaurant by AAA Motor Club, making it the only eatery in the area to gain such a distinction.
"(Three-Diamond) establishments impart an increasingly refined and upscale, adult-oriented experience," said AAA's official website. "Routinely, these restaurants appeal to the diner in search of an experience rather than just a meal."
Owner Vincenzo Avanzato was alerted to the rating by a phone call from a AAA reviewer who had critiqued the staff unbeknownst to the staff.
"I was so excited," Avanzato said Monday. "This award has never been given in Oneonta."
After more than a year of extensive renovations, Avanzato and his brother, co-owner Antonio, opened Stella Luna in Oneonta's Market Street train depot last June.
The Avanzatos also own the Italian Kitchen on Church Street.
Stella Luna, offering a main dining room, a banquet room, a smoking room and a wine room with more than 185 wines, will be listed with its rating in an upcoming AAA Tourbook.
The restaurant often offers musical entertainment and Orpheus Theatre musicals will return to the banquet room next summer, Avanzato said.
AAA annually evaluates 45,000 lodging establishments and restaurants and rates them on a scale of one to five diamonds, the website said. Five diamond properties are the premiere establishments that provide the ultimate in quality and service, the web site said, while one diamond proprietaries meet AAA's basic standards for comfort, cleanliness and hospitality.
Pining away for a trip to Italy? Stella Luna Stazione in Oneonta may satisfy yor desires. Head to the former Market Street Train Station, built in 1892, where commuters once boarded trains for Albany and Buffalo. Drawing from childhood memories and family secrets, the Avanzato brothers have delivered an extraordinary dining gift to visitors. Sip Pino Noir from Millbrook as you gather in the "outdoor cafe" and listen to impromptu piano serenades. Savvy regulars rent a humidor locker and store their favorite cigars to enjoy in the tabaccheria after a diner of Handmade Pasta Cannelloni with a glass of Grappa and the signature Tiramisu for dessert.
We, being my wife, Joanie, our good friend Nina and I recently enjoyed a spectacular dinner in a well preserved, weathered, red brick railroad station in Oneonta, NY. Originally the D&H train station, this solid building now houses the Stella Luna Staztione Italian resturant as envisioned by the Avanzato brothers, Vincenzo and Antonio.
If you will, picture a quiet village in Italy. You step inside the doors into an "outdoor" cafe where someone may be playing love songs on a piano. Every room has a different look and feel. There is the Cortile (Courtyard) with its blue skies and stratus nimbus (mares' tails) clouds that I had to keep glancing up at, certain that they were moving. Artist Kevin Hanlon painted the cloud and scenes of villas and vineyards of of Tuscany on the walls and ceiling. On our visit, our host Antionio treated us to a brief thunder and lightning sound and light show in this room. It passes by quicky without being annoying and leaves everyone with a slight Mona Lisa-type smile. (I covered my head with a napkin!)
The Cantina (bar) displays hundreds of bottles of imported and domestic wines and beers behind glass doors, maintained at the exact, correctly controlled temperatures. There is also a Grotto and two larger rooms. The Conferenza provides private dining for business or family events for up to 30 people; the Banchetto accomodates 100 guests at wedding receptions or other special occasions isolated from the main restaurant. A Mercato (store) sells Tuscan items such as extra virgin olive oil, coffee and other Italian imports for home use. To keep the restaurant smoke-free, there is the Tabbacheria (smoking lounge) sealed off from the main rooms and where aficionados may enjoy a fine cigar after dinner without disturbing others. A humidor is provided so that frequent guests may store cigars in individual locked boxes.
The ambiance is wonderful, but we came for the food and were totally delighted by the meal that followed. Nina, who had been here before, guided us through the selections. Each ordered something different and we sampled from our companions' plates.
Antipasti were brought out quickly to our table and were perfect. Nina's steamed musels reminded me why we love Italian food so much. Resting in a delicate, light, white wine, garlic and olive oil sauce, we sampled and envied her choice. Joanie had tiny calamari rings with a marinara sauce dip, and I savored sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers and fresh mozzarella cheese over sliced fresh tomatoes.
Choosing a wine to complement everyone's food was difficult. I selected a '97 Ruffino Riserva Ducale Gold Label Chianti Classico, which was a perfect choice.
You can expect excellent, attentive service without feeling that the wait staff is hovering over you too closely. That night, our waiter was young, but knowledgable, having lived for some years in Europe, and could discuss the food and wine choices with confidence.
Portions are very generous, so allow ample time to savor each delicious bite. This is not an ordinary Italian comfort food, but, rather, several notches higher. We give Stella Luna Stazione "FFFF", a four-fork rating. It is well worth a trip from anywhere, and is extraordinarily reasonable in price for the fine quality fare.
Whenever I try a new Italian restaurant, I always order lasagne on my first visit. If care is shown in preparing this seeming mundane dish, I am encouraged to eat my way through the rest of the menu. Some inferior restaurants slap together a huge tray of lasagna, cut off a hunk, throw it into a hot salamander oven to heat, thereby burning the top corners to a blackened crisp, or worse yet, nuking it in a microwave! At Stella Luna, each individual portion is lovingly prepared to order, with alternating layers of lasagna noodles between a tomato meat sauce and a Béchamel white sauce, and served hot in just the right amount. I loved it and guarded it from the raiding forks of my companions.
Joanie had Risotto al Mare, with shrimp, clams, calamari and fresh tomatoes. Delicious, but no match for my lasagna. Nina chose Veal Piccata, with capers, garlic, lemons, crushed red peppers in a white wine garlic sauce. Salad and fresh-baked bread are included with one's main meal, but don't fill up because dessert is coming.
What I had wsa definitely not your typical tiramisu. Served in a tall, chilled Margarita glass, and topped by a dark chocolate, squiggle swizzle stick, each succeeding taste was slightly different as I struck layers of laydfingers, espresso, and coffee liquers, marscapone cheese and creamy sauce. Joanie opted for a fantastic, layered spongecake filled with a light, mousse-like chocolate custard and rum cream. Nina topped off her meal with a rich, double espresso coffee. Vincenzo's wife, Ruth, makes the desserts daily from secret family recipes, and they are terrific, as is everything on the extensive and varied menu.
The specials change seasonally, but the regular bill of fare offers something for everyone: Bruschetti, polenta, artichoke and prosciutto salad, canneloni, pastas of all description with 17 different sauces, chicken, veal, steaks, shrimp, swordfish, sea bass, filet of sole, and more.
If you are lucky, a slow-moving freight train will rumble by, only 50 feet away from the outside of the back door. The tracks remain avtive and, without disturbing your dining experience the trains are a pleasant distraction to remind you of the early life of the building.
Oneonta's entire midtown area is enjoying a resurgence, with new businesses and residents moving in. The railroad freight storage terminal adjacent to the Stazione has been converted to upscale duplex apartments with wrought iron balconies. Parking is not a problem, with ample space on all sides of the restaurant.
Stella Luna, located at 58-60 Market Street, is popular with diners from the Catskills region and beyond, and reservations are suggested. Call (607)433-7646.