Chef Brett Williams delivers an authentic taste of Northern Italy at his newest dining destination.
Written by Louisa Clerici
Photography by Kjeld Mahoney
The secret is out: Orta Trattoria and Lounge has opened in Kingston. Named after the spectacular but often-overlooked Lake Orta, located in the Piedmont region of Italy, the new South Shore restaurant is itself a hidden gem. Inspired by owners Brett and Cara Williams’ passion for Italian cuisine and following years of success operating Orta Ristorante in Pembroke, the new restaurant serves simple, Northern Italian comfort food with a slightly elevated ambiance.
Chef Brett Williams’ talents were recognized early in his career, while working alongside acclaimed chef Jimmy Burke. At just 20 years old, Williams obtained an apprenticeship at the legendary Lo Zibibbo restaurant in Florence, Italy. It was there that he learned the time-honored techniques and secrets of Tuscan cuisine from one of Florence’s most renowned female chefs, Benedetta Vitali. He came home speaking a new language and possessing a new cooking philosophy: “Clean, crisp and pure,” says Williams. “Three main ingredients and a few distinct flavors. You don’t want to complicate the dish.”
Delicious aromas greet visitors at the door of Orta Trattoria. Seated at a comfortable booth, the scent of fresh focaccia and good Tuscan olive oil begin to tantalize your appetite. Orta Arancini, a traditional Italian rice ball made with fresh mozzarella and just the right amount of spicy tomato sauce, is the perfect antipasti. Another favorite is the roasted rainbow beets that are paired with goat cheese and spiced pecans and garnished with a rosemary crisp and light lemon vinaigrette.
The restaurant has a relaxed and accessible vibe, which makes it the perfect place to share a couple of grilled flatbreads with friends. Try the Drunken Mushroom pizza that comes topped with shitake, cremini and oyster mushrooms dressed in Madeira and a subtle splash of truffle. The Margherita Flatbread, adorned with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil, is deliciously simple and bursting with flavor.
The pasta menu at Orta Trattoria is so enticing you’ll want to return again and again to try them all. The Linguine is made with smoked bacon, peas, carbonara cream and a poached egg on top. As soon as your fork breaks the delicate egg yolk, the golden yolk blends gently with the carbonara cream and becomes pure silk on your tongue. The Rigatoni in elevated with an aromatic Bolognese sauce. With delightful hints of rosemary and juniper, the flavor is unforgettable.
Williams’ signature dish is the Braised Beef Short Rib. Served with homemade potato gnocchi, Parmesan cream and crispy potatoes, the dish is melt-in-your-mouth spectacular. It’s likely the lightest gnocchi you will ever eat (Williams got the recipe where gnocchi was invented) and the short ribs are hearty and juicy. Another menu favorite is the Herb Crusted Salmon that comes with citrus spaghetti squash and cauliflower with lemon caper aioli and baby greens.
Brett and Cara Williams share a code of excellence and aim to serve their customers delicious meals at a reasonable price. Dishes are made in-house using local, sustainable ingredients and many can be made gluten-free or vegan. Meals are complemented by a selection of fine Italian wines, hand-chosen by chef Williams. The drink menu also features an array of bourbons, scotches and creative cocktails. Try the Watermelon Margarita, made with fresh watermelon.
When you visit Orta Trattoria, make sure to save room for dessert. There’s an impressive flourless Tuscany chocolate torte, pecan pie and a knock-your-socks-off tiramisu. And how about a grappa to accompany it? It’s the perfect post-dinner drink.
After enjoying a beautiful evening at Orta Trattoria, you’ll want to keep this hidden gem a secret too.