Ortomare is an Uptown find for authentic Italian

A Neapolitan pizza margherita from Ortomare, which uses a wood-fired oven. (Courtesy Ortomare)

BY GABE HERMAN | For Downtown residents willing to broaden their horizons and foray Uptown once in a while, Ortomare, a restaurant and pizzeria on the Upper West Side that serves authentic Italian dishes, is worth the journey.

Ortomare opened in February at 994 Columbus Ave., at W. 109th St. The husband and wife team of Alfredo and Arta Hila, along with Alfredo’s brother Eddie, are the place’s owners. It’s just a few blocks from the 110th St. B/C subway station.

Alfredo and Arta are originally from Albania and lived in Rome for many years. They arrived in New York five years ago. Alfredo, who works in real estate, found the restaurant space and loved it, deciding he wanted to open an eatery there with hearty cuisine.

The restaurant is one big, light-filled, open room, with brick walls and a high ceiling. It seats about 40, with a corner bar, plus outdoor seating.

The pizza is cooked in a wood-fired oven, which Arta said is the authentic Roman style. They even brought in a pizzaiolo from Rome, where he had cooked pizza pies for 20 years.

The restaurant’s name comes from orto e mare, which translates to “garden and sea.” But there are also meat options on the menu, along with homemade pastas made on the premises.

Most of the restaurant’s foods and ingredients are imported from Italy, including flour, prosciutto and cheeses. The desserts are made in-house, including chocolate cake, gelato and panna cotta.

Appetizers at Ortomare include minestrone soup. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

The homemade emphasis can be tasted in the dishes, from appetizers, like minestrone soup chockful of vegetables, to margherita pizza and fettuccine with mushrooms and spinach.

A lunch prix fixe menu includes an appetizer and an entrée for $14.99, or $18.99 with dessert. The brunch menu on weekends and holidays includes pizza, panini, egg and salad options.

Other appetizers include fried calamari, Caesar salad and slowly cooked meatballs in tomato sauce from the brick oven. Appetizers run about $8 to $14.

Along with many pasta and pizza dishes, which range from about $14 to $18, other main courses include grilled salmon, chicken parmigiana, sliced grilled New York strip steak, and stuffed chicken with spinach and fontina cheese, all for around $21 to $25.

Arta and Alfredo share the restaurant’s management duties based around work and family obligations. Arta, a researcher at Columbia University, recently got her Ph.D. there in international law.

The restaurant gets busy for dinner and on weekends, but is quieter for lunch since it’s in a residential area, Arta said.

“It’s become a neighborhood place where people meet,” she said.

And they’re getting positive feedback and some growth through word of mouth.

“Customers are returning and bringing other people,” Arta said. “That makes us happy.”

Ortomare is open daily except Mondays. More information can be found at ortomare.com.

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