On the corner of Columbus and 109th Street, new restaurant Ortomare is bringing authentic Italian cuisine across the sea to the piccolo metropolis of Morningside Heights. “Ortomare” comes from the English translation of the Italian phrase, “orto e mare,” meaning “the vegetable garden and the sea.”
In late January this year, Rezarta Kola, a 2010 Columbia Visiting Scholar, and her husband Alfredo Hila, opened their first restaurant, Ortomare, in the Morningside Heights community. Originally from Rome, the couple looked for a restaurant location in Manhattan for a few years before finding 994 Columbus Avenue. The location has outdoor seating and a wood-fired, brick pizza oven, with the capacity to seat over 30 people.
“I was in love with Columbia and this neighborhood, and we came here,” Kola said. “We are in love with Italian food and wanted to serve Italian food in New York.”
In their dedication to craft artisan and authentic pizza, Kola and Hila hired a pizzaiolo from Rome. “It’s a touch of Rome in the Upper West Side,” says Kola.
While studying in Italy, Hila worked in a restaurant as a sous chef. In New York, Hila works as a commercial real estate broker, but used his culinary experience to test recipes and adjust the menu with the chef of Ortomare.
The menu has three signature dishes: Appetizer Ortomare, Parpardelle Ortomare, and Pizze Ortomare. Truly living up to the essence of its name, the Appetizer Ortomare charmingly blends grilled garden vegetables, grilled calamari, and shrimp.
Alongside its dinner service and brunch, served exclusively on weekends, Ortomare offers a daily prix fixe menu for two course lunch ($14) and three course lunch ($18) consisting of appetizer, main course, and optional dessert. Additionally, it has a 10% discount with a Columbia ID for faculty, staff, students, and visitors, and a special happy hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with cocktails and $5-$6 beer and wine.
Adorned on the walls are two collage photographs chosen by Kola depicting Italian food and the restaurant’s expansive wine selection. The photograph of the wine selection has the owner’s philosophy towards Ortomare written on it in Italian.
“Mangi bene, bevi bene, vivi bene: It’s my saying,” Kola said. “Eat good, drink good, live good.”