Take a culinary journey to the northern part of Croatia in Dalmatia, from where the Rosini family hails. Husband and wife David and Mirela, and their lovely daughter Nicole, run Veslo with a great sense of pride that reflects their rich heritage. Veslo opened in December of 2011 and is already a favorite on many foodie Web sites. The impressive bar is made of stacked stone and topped with steel, materials prevalent to the region’s many caves and wine cellars. Plank floors and rough hewn wood tables are illuminated by the unique lighting from exposed bulbs hung between dozens of oars. “Veslo” is the Croatian word for these boat paddles, and dozens of other old world antiques adorn the walls of this upscale Adriatic restaurant. What’s more, the charming outdoor patio and garden make you feel as if you’re dining in a quaint European village, right here in Astoria.
Nicole greeted us so warmly and made us feel right at home as she brought a ramekin of house made olive tapenade and warm, crusty bread to nibble on while she described and explained many of the tantalizing items on the menu. Croatia is a significant wine producing country and you should accompany your meal with one of the country’s robust reds or crisp whites. There’s also a full bar serving all your favorite cocktails and beer, and there’s a bar menu for casual dining with friends.
The grilled octopus came highly recommended and it is truly something…tender and tasty, hot off the grill with plenty for two. This tender octopus can also be ordered as a cold salad Dalmatian style with diced potatoes, red onion, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice ($15). The Adriatic shellfish combination has mussels and clams in a heavenly white wine sauce, begging to be soaked up with bread ($12). Chef Boris’ special is a hot seafood platter with clams oreganata, steamed mussels in white wine,
grilled calamari, sautéed shrimp and savory eggplant rollatini stuffed with light, fluffy ricotta. My companion and I made short work of this impressive platter, soaking up every last drop of the delicious sauce. Share a Nikolina Salad; a toss of mixed greens, endive, honey toasted walnuts, gorgonzola cheese, dried cranberries and balsamic vinaigrette.
Croatian cuisine is a unique mixture of fish and seafood (“riba”) , hearty meats (“meso”), pasta dishes and vegetables. The chef makes handmade, traditional pasta called “fuzi” which are delicious, smothered in a veal sauce that cooks for hours. The handmade gnocchi is served with this irresistible sauce as well. Lobster ravioli are tender pillows of pasta filled with sweet lobster, topped with a saffron-infused cream sauce ($18). It’s still cool enough outside to enjoy a hearty bowl of wild mushroom risotto with its toothsome texture. The goulash is made of cubes of stewed beef, olive oil, onions, red wine and fresh herbs served over gnocchi or polenta. Brodetto a la Adriatico is a cornucopia of shrimp, mussels, scallops, clams, and sea bass fillet served in a divine tomato, garlic, white wine sauce with fragrant herbs. This spectacular dish is served over linguini or polenta and will be something you talk about for days!
The quality of the meats at Veslo is evident in every bite. For the best sampling, you ought to order the Veslo mixed grill platter. This stunning platter is composed of handmade Croatian sausages called, phonetically, “chibachichi”made with mild herbs and spices, tender baby lamb chops, and filet mignon that you could practically cut with your fork. Everything was grilled to the perfect temperature and beautifully presented. Chicken shish kebabs came on a platter, resting on grilled pita bread. Meat lovers will rejoice in hefty grilled veal chops, lamb chops, French cut pork chops, or New York sirloin steak, all cooked to order and served with roasted potatoes and fresh vegetables. Try the grilled fish of the day, which might be red snapper or branzino, basted with lemon and olive oil. Grilled salmon is always on the menu, as is jumbo shrimp sautéed with tomatoes, green onion, garlic and white wine.
As impossible as this might seem, do try and save room for their delicate, traditional crepes called “palacinke” filled with jam or with mascarpone cheese, topped with cognac. Croatian style flan, tiramisu, and homemade apple strudel all go well with robust coffee, espresso or cappuccino.
Veslo is open for lunch from 11am to 3pm where you’ll find smaller portions of their great food, as well as kebabs, juicy burgers, skirt steak sandwiches and more. The bar stays open until 3am on weekends, and you can order from the bar menu into the wee hours. Veslo is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, from 11am until midnight from Sunday to Thursday, and until 3am on Friday and Saturday nights, where there is a live d.j. to lighten your mood. Come for live jazz on Thursday nights from 7pm to 10pm. I’ll be back on June 7 for the World Cup qualifiers when Croatia goes up against Scotland, which is sure to be an exciting match, accompanied by great food, cocktails and wine. The service at Veslo is professional and friendly and the atmosphere is sophisticated, yet casual and comfortable. For an upscale dining experience without pretense, visit Veslo. Veslo offers a unique, culinary experience, steeped in history and culture. Hvala! (thank you!)
32-11 Broadway, Astoria