A Hidden Italian Treasure
One charming culinary gem’s fresh Northern Italian fare draws gourmets to the heart of Orange County
Air-cured beef, fresh arugula, and crisp zucchini blossoms stuffed with creamy ricotta and goat cheese make a succulent melt-in-your-mouth medley
Photographs by Jennifer May
Il Tesoro opened in Montgomery, Orange County, back in 2004, serving Italian cuisine that immediately got raves from foodies thereabouts. My husband and I meant to check it out, but Montgomery is nowhere near our house, and you know how it is. After the restaurant relocated to Goshen a year and a half later, critics were declaring it “worth a drive from anywhere,” but Goshen’s even further away from us. So when we finally made the trek on a recent rainy summer night, we were long overdue.
Il Tesoro (which means “treasure,” for those of you whose Italian is as molto awful as mine) is set in an unassuming storefront, with just a dozen tables and a small bar in the back. There’s a fireplace on the brick wall, and the other walls are a mustard-gold, with copper pots and paintings to cozy things up. We arrived early, and were welcomed with patience as I dithered about which table to sit at. As more patrons began to pile in, merrily greeting each other, the convivial, neighborhood feeling ratcheted up. Even though the place is tiny, it doesn’t feel cramped, and you can easily converse above the laughter and chatter that fills the room. As far as casual, cheerful settings go, this one’s an 11.
The fare is Northern Italian with some modern flourishes, and the menu is divided in the traditional way: antipasti, soups, salads, pastas and secondi (main courses). Choices include traditional entries (carpaccio, calamari, veal scaloppine and such) along with tempting options like roasted beets with gorgonzola, or grilled lamb with broccoli rabe pesto. In addition, your server (who may well be the owner, Yoshi Rizzo, or one of her two sons) will recite several specials in each category, all of which are driven by whatever fresh ingredients Yoshi found at the market that day.
The eclectic wine list includes a number of Italian varieties, and although there are no real bargains, it’s moderately priced, with several good selections by the glass.
While we wrestled with decision-making, we dunked dense, chewy panella bread into a good, rosemary-infused olive oil, and snacked on tasty black Kalamata olives. Extra touches — like dressing up the oil and warming the bread — hinted that there were probably good things to come. And to spare you the suspense, I’ll tell you now: good things came.
Berry sweet: Vanilla panna cotta (cooked cream) topped with fresh berries and clear orange-caramel sauce
I started with bresaola with fried zucchini blossoms, paired with diced tomato and arugula in a very light lemon vinaigrette. The air-cured, paper-thin slices of beef had a delicately intense flavor and such a melting quality, I barely had to chew. Like almost anything that’s lightly battered and fried, the zucchini blossoms, stuffed with ricotta and goat cheese, were very tasty, although I thought they slightly overpowered the beef. My spouse disagreed, but I decided to eat the dish in alternating bites anyway, first savoring the beef, then a crispy, creamy blossom, and then a forkful of fresh vegetables. It was a highly enjoyable exercise in tastes and textures.
Our other appetizer (and I say “our” because I was so helpful in eating it) was baby octopus on a bed of white cannellini beans and wilted arugula, with a dash of chili oil. The three little octopuses were remarkably tender, with that subtle hint of the sea that’s not truly fishy. Their smooth texture contrasted well with the beans and greens.
To sample a pasta dish, we shared a half portion of pappardelle with shredded rabbit ragù. It was rustic yet elegant fare at its best, with the rabbit adding depth of flavor to a smooth, rich tomato sauce redolent with red wine and black olives.
Swordfish, that day’s pesce di giorno, was so delicious I’m still licking my lips. It was a generous steak that came prettily presented, sitting on a medley of baby salad greens, cannellini, and still-crunchy green beans, topped with a scoop of tapenade and drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Some chefs get heavy handed with swordfish, maybe because it’s such a robust-looking creature, but this flavorful piece was gently grilled, so that it remained moist and firm. Flecks of basil gave the greens and beans a summery brightness, while the tapenade added some piquancy.
Our other main course was a frequent special — half a Murray’s chicken marinated in herbs and lemon, then brushed with Dijon mustard and black peppercorns before being roasted and finished on the grill. There are few foods as satisfying as a roast chicken (assuming you begin with a good quality bird that has some flavor, which is why we’re name-dropping here). Half a chicken on a plate is bound to be a straightforward presentation, but it looked very appetizing all the same, cooked to a deep golden color, with tempting grill marks. It tasted even better than it looked: juicy, with a slight smoky flavor and a few notes of char thanks to the grill, which did nothing to dry it out. Orzo made a fine accompaniment.
Owner Yoshiko Rizzo with her son and manager, Sam Allen
Yoshi is renowned locally for her desserts, and regulars were “oohing” and “aahing” as delicacies were transported through the room. Most are tried-and-true favorites like flourless chocolate soufflé cake, mascarpone cheese cake, and tiramisù (which she sometimes makes in cake form). We went for panna cotta with macerated strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries that was silky, light, and not overly sweet. Excellent cappuccino, served with a brown sugar twirl, capped off the delightful meal.
On the drive home, we talked about how carefully the chef crafted dishes to play up fresh ingredients without letting them mask each other. It turns out we didn’t even benefit from the ministrations of the usual chef, Marcelo Pacheco — he was away in Ecuador. Yoshi decided to let the sous chef, Tim House, have a crack at running the kitchen under her supervision — and none of her regulars noticed, she reports. And how did this lovely Japanese lady develop her own knowledge of Italian cooking? She worked for nearly 10 years as a server at Sali Hadzi’s Il Cenácolo, the highest rated Italian restaurant in the Hudson Valley, where Yoshi says she “really learned a lot from Sali.” Apparently she learned it well.
Il Tesoro isn’t cheap, and helpings, although quite sufficient, are not generally the heaping variety you find in “red-sauce” joints (it’s more about quality than quantity). But they’re generous enough that a half portion of a pasta dish and a salad could satisfy a normal appetite, and you can split a main course with no extra charge. Service, too, is accommodating and personable, so you’d feel quite comfortable asking to have your meal the way you want it.
In all, this is a perfect little jewel box of a place. There are only a few eateries I’m willing to drive more than an hour to get to. Il Tesoro is now on the list.
6 N. Church St., Goshen
Appetizers and salads range from $8-$14; entrées from $16 (for pasta) to $32. Lunch fare (panini, salads, soups) run from $3-$14.
Dinner Mon.-Thurs. 5-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-10 p.m., Sun. 4-8 p.m. Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.