Agnanti Meze the romantic Greek restaurant over-looking Astoria Park expanded to a second location in Brooklyn in 2006 (a reader informed me when this actually happened). I went to the location in my neighborhood in Astoria and noticed the staff sporting new brightly colored orange t-shirts with ‘Agnanti Meze’ stitched on them. The traditional Greek eatery seems to be gearing their menu towards tapas dishes. Sauntering in on a warm Saturday evening, my dining partner and I were once again pleased with the provisions we ordered. Agnanti consistently supplies hungry diners with succulent park-side Greek cuisine. Settling into the rustic restaurant we started our smorgasbord with grilled octopus, a greek favorite blackened to perfection. We washed it down with some red wine and taramosalata, a delicious tangy carp roe spread. Next on our palates was the tyrokeftedes sifnou or the cheese and herb croquets that are fried in a crispy shell and filled with hot cheese and herbs. The next dish is the simple and hearty lima bean creation hailing from Constantinople, fasolia plaki. Baked in olive oil and diced vegetables, this dish resembles the regional peasant fare. No matter what your picky taste buds had you thinking as a youth, your inner child will embrace this lima bean concoction. You will feel right at home in this semi-upscale restaurant when the waitstaff greets you in thick Greek accents and pleasantly guide you along the menu. Agnanti in Astoria serves lunch and dinner with outside seating available.
Agnanti– 19-06 Ditmars Blvd , Astoria – (718) 545-4554 & 7802 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11209 718-833-7033
I was skeptical about this place from the start. Though it is seconds from Astoria Park, Da Franco is easy to pass by. Slightly hidden, it is located in a strip mall on the first floor of a monstrosity that some refer to as luxury condominiums. Though, don’t let the uninspiring setting deter you from experiencing a delicious meal. Despite its unfortunate whereabouts, this fine Italian restaurant is overflowing with superb Italian cuisine from one entree to the next.
The first edibles of the evening were the toasted slices of bread doused in olive oil that promptly arrived soon after ordering our drinks. As a general rule of dining, I try not to fill up on the bread, but this was the best damn plate of free bread I had ever eaten before a meal. Needless to say, I filled up. In spite of the bread basket strategy gone awry, we proceeded to order a few appetizers. My dining partners and I started the night with the fried calamari and polenta e gorgonzola; two vastly different but extraordinary introductions to our Italian feast. The calamari was crispy and fresh. The polenta was pan fried to perfection, until the golden cornmeal pudding was soft on the inside with a slightly crunchy crust then drizzled over with a rich gorgonzola sauce. The main courses took some time to make an appearance on our table, but they were worth the wait. Among them were the special of the night, grilled shrimp entree- a plate of slightly blacken shrimp with fresh vegetables. Next on the table was the red snapper oreganata, breaded broiled red snapper with garlic. My personal favorite of the evening was the homemade pasta dish, agnolotti dello chef, a spinach ravioli with salmon and shrimp in a light bourbon sauce. The little ravioli pockets were soft but not chewy, stuffed with warm spinach and seafood and covered in a hot bourbon sauce. Every meal we enjoyed was delicately prepared and presented with substantial proportions. I am so glad we finally made our way past the facade of the giant luxury building to discover this Italian gem. Da Franco offers catering, delivery, gelato stand and outdoor seating.
Da Franco Italian Restaurant 23-92 21st Street Astoria NY 718-267-0010 http://www.dafrancoitalianrestaurant.com
Authors of Forking Fantastic, Tamara Reynolds and Zora O’Neill began cooking for friends about six years ago, for what has now turned into the famous Sunday Night Dinner club. With over 600 members, the club has Tamara opening up her home and kitchen to twenty strangers and friends each month to share her recipes and company with them. This twice monthly dinner is now run by Tamara out of her Astoria apartment. All diners need to do is sign-up, wait for her email invitation and the first twenty who respond will get a seat into Astoria’s most popular dinner party! I was fortunate to meet with her and ask her a few questions about her club. Watch this video to get a candid look into her culinary journey as she shares tips for creating your own dinner party!
Keep up with Tamara and Zora:
Tamara will teach you how to cook April 25 at 2pm at the Brooklyn Kitchen
Listen to them speak at The Brooklyn Museum as guest speakers for Target First Saturdays about their cookbook Forking Fantastic! Put The Party Back In Dinner Party.
May 7 Tamara will be cooking the first dinner in the new Dinners on The Farm series at The Queens County Farm Museum.
Roaming around Flushing on a quest for some good Chinese food isn’t a difficult task. After checking out a couple of places, my dining partner and I decided on the Szechuan Gourmet. Although the name suggests an unimaginative standard in the category of Szechuan cuisine, the reality was anything but. We made our way into the casual dining room, decorated with paper lanterns and linen clad tables. As we settled into our seats our wandering eyes peered through an endless menu of enticing and intriguing items. We opted to start with the chilled, but spicy, diced rabbit and peanut with chili-garlic black bean jam. An amalgam of tastes rushed together leaving the mouth with a slight tingly sensation. At first bite this dish seems spicy, but then the cooling garlic and ginger take over while the peanuts dull the intensity of the chili. It was a feast for the eyes as well, with colorful bursts of reds, oranges and greens. The second appetizer was a refreshing mixture of cucumber slices doused in chili pepper sauce. For the main course we devoured the shrimp and yellow leek entree. Unlike the previous dishes, this meal was a delicate combination of stir fried shrimp and leek with a slightly smokey essence. The Szechuan Gourmet is a great place to eat an afternoon lunch or weekend dinner. Service is friendly, prices are moderate for quantity and quality of the food and they offer week day lunch specials.
Szechuan Gourmet Flushing Queens 135-15 37th Ave 718-888-9388
La Rioja (33-05 Broadway 718.932.0101) will supply the food- but you need to bring the bottle, at least until they acquire a liquor license. Equipped with a bar, fine Spanish tapas, entrees and a small market hocking Spanish meats, cheeses and imported sweets situated in the back of the restaurant, this place is suitable for both evening diners and quick bites to-go. A region located in northern Spain, La Rioja is known for the Haro Wine Festival, but you’ll be hard pressed to find any grapes in this place. Aside from the lack of regional beverages, the food here is a cut above the average tapas. Acorn fed pigs make their way to Astoria as a pricey delicacy, Jamon Iberica de Bellota, at $20 a pop this pig must be savored slowly. La Rioja also offers Serrano Ham as an inexpensive palatable substitute. The Pulpo a la Feiro, boiled octopus doused in a paprika and olive oil is a tender mouth-watering delight for the semi-adventurous. Looking for an alternative to the standard Gazpacho? Try to the Crema de Mariscos, a savory concoction of vegetables and seafood swimming in a bowl of rich, creamy broth. And of course encouraged at every Spanish dining experience, the bacon wrapped dates are succulent morsels both sweet and savory to accompany any dish. The prices here are reasonable and the service is friendly and warm.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
La Vuelta (10-43 44th Drive LIC 718-361-1858)
Hidden on a side road surrounded by nothing- sits a quaint and unassuming Latino bistro. La Vuelta offers a menu that is a turn from the conventional South American fare usually found in New York. Some might call it fusion or nuevo- I just call it plain good. Everything about this restaurant from the intimate setting to the reasonable prices to the friendly service and of course to the food- is a pleasant experience. The row of unique hanging lanterns guides you into a dimly lit restaurant that is decorated with paintings of old cars. Immediately after you sit your server bestows your table with a basket of plantain chips and garlic dip. Staring with a nachos, a dish large enough to feed the entire table. The plate topples over with baked jack cheese and a white bean puree. The grilled shrimp with coconut rice and pineapple jalapeno is a tender arrangement of all tastes sweet and hot. The plank roasted tilapia (pictured) with roasted red beets, rice and pepper escabeche adds traditional latin ingredients to form a colorful palate. The buttery tilapia is slightly crisp on a bed of fresh herbs and vegetables. The grilled tuna steak with sauteed vegetables and five pepper salsa is an entree overflowing with zest but not overpowered by seasoning. It is appropriate to end a cold wintry night with La Veulta’s seasonal cocktail- the Grand Marnier hot chocolate- a steaming hot tin pitcher of cocoa and milk with the essence of bitter orange. If you still crave dessert- the baked apple empanadas are doused in sweet syrup that is sprinkled with jalepeno pepper. The wine list is short, but offers nothing but quality choices like a fruity Malbec or Camenerie. The small restaurant is still a sleeper so the weekend dinner crowd is limited and short lived. La Vuelta may be off-the-beaten-path but it’s worth the detour.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Vesta Trattoria and Wine Bar (21-02 30th Ave 30th Ave N/W train or Q69 bus) isn’t going to change your world of culinary experiences. It is however, a fantastic place to go for a romantic night of Italian eating and drinking. The thing that makes Vesta a unique step above other restaurants, is that you can order wine by the shot, glass or bottle. This is an affordable and practical phenomenon, and puts fine dining within reach. Shot glasses of wine start at $2.50 and glasses around $7. There are bubblies, whites and reds to choose from- mostly small regional labels imported from Italy. The red Salice Salentino offers a fruity dry taste similar to that of a fine Malbec and the white Gravina is fruity and tart. The appetizers and sides like the crispy seared brussel sprouts or the beet salad are simple and elegant dishes that compliment almost any meal. The potato and pancetta pizza is an unusual combination of meat, starch, apples, goat cheese and a sweet caramelized onion sauce (in place of the traditional tomato sauce) topped with arugula . The fresh vegetables and meat are arranged on a thin crispy crust large enough for two. At Vesta the three meat lasagna isn’t oozing with molten cheese or bursting with flavor. It is a more refined and simpler version of what diners might otherwise normally encounter. The service is genuinely attentive and down-to-earth. It is a blend of neighborhood friendliness with a romantic edge. The atmosphere provides a youthful hipness with Cold Play, Interpol and The Gossip playing on the stereo without being pretentiously unwelcoming. Vesta stays loyal to the local economy by purchasing artwork and baked goods from the surrounding neighborhood. They are open late, serve brunch, offer a great date spot at very reasonable prices.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
El Boqueron Tapas Bar and Restaurant (Astoria 31-01 34th Ave at 31st St 718-956-0107) The service is outstanding in this little corner restaurant offering traditional Spanish plates- but the food is less impressive.This place draws the diner in with christmas lights adorning a colorful awning and the word “tapas” plastered on it. Well-made traditional Spanish food is a rarity in Queens. El Boqueron’s festive appeal and ambience just screams “eat me!” to passersby. Peering into the large windows at the jovial diners stuffing their faces and downing sangria entices patrons to join in the fun. The attractive oak bar marries the small ceramic tiled table-tops into Spanish inspired decor. Sporting pricey entrees and two full pages of hot and cold tapas (most of them running around $9) , one would think the splurge is has got to be worth the hefty dent it will make in your wallet. I thought otherwise. Not to be mistaken- the food is genuinely tasty and the atmosphere inviting- though a circumstance of unremarkable food and drink combined with a remarkable tab leaves a second visit in question. The Codorniz Asada y Salsa de Frutas is a dish served with about 4 quails drenched in a sweet sauce with raisins and thinly sliced potato crisps- perfect for swapping up the left over sauce. The collision of the sweet and salty landscape provides ample satisfaction for the palate- though it falls short of amazing. The Setas del Huerto Rellenas is a plate of mushrooms stuffed with vegetables and bacon- a hearty warm tapa full of flavor. The deep fried chicken croquettes are the least impressive hot tapa. All choices that make the mouth water when perusing the menu- but when the dishes arrive- they are simply a little better than average. With a buffet style table in the back- some of the tapas are ready-to-eat and served at a moments notice. The Sangria seems watered down (although seek extra alcohol and ye shall receive with a polite request to the server) and overpriced. The Paella Valencia is however- worth ordering. The oversized iron skillet is filled with delicate pieces of seasoned shrimp, scallops, white fish, calamari and sausage all in a bed of rice and rich tomato based sauce. You can split this large entree or take the rest home with you. Late hours, daily specials and attentive staff are pluses.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
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