Though it's late September, we're still enjoying summer weather perfect for long, evening walks and outdoor dining. One of my favorite places to dine al fresco, or indoors for that matter, is Brick Caf, a bistro on the corner of 33rd Street and 31st Avenue in Astoria that combines casual dining with haute cuisine at reasonable prices in a wonderfully romantic setting. The dining room is furnished with rustic, wooden tables, antique mirrors, brick walls and a tin ceiling, all constructed by genial owner Adnan Krilic. Lace curtains on the French doors, fresh flowers and glowing candles lend warmth and coziness to this fabulous caf that serves dinner each evening and a superb brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. The adjoining bar and lounge located at the rear of the restaurant is a popular spot with the sedate 20- and 30-something crowd that comes in each evening to enjoy a variety of drinks, espresso and background music. You'll feel very comfortable at Brick Caf, where the staff is very friendly, polite and efficient.
While reviewing the menu, I spread their addictive calamata olive tapenade onto slices of crispy French bread and ordered a bottle of wine from their reasonably priced list, which is, appropriately, printed on a wine bottle. The menu consists mostly of French-inspired, Mediterranean dishes that include lots of fresh fish, pasta, meat and poultry.
One of the most popular appetizers is steamed mussels, prepared in your choice of red or white wine sauce and herbs ($8.95). Grilled shrimp with grilled vegetables make a light and flavorful way to start, while the Brick version of onion soup gratinee served bubbling hot in an earthenware crock is a perfect rendition of the French classic. The beautiful platter of tuna carpaccio in citrus marinade served with avocado sauce is matched only by the unique flavor of octopus carpaccio, sliced paper-thin and served with a mound of fennel salad on top ($8.95). Both dishes melt in your mouth. Indulge in escargots and soak up the heavenly butter and garlic sauce with fresh bread ($8.95).
Several fresh salads are offered, such as the Brick Salad, hearts of palm tossed with chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumbers and shaved Parmesan for a salad that seems like a meal in itself. . When we visited, the special salad of the evening featured grilled Granny Smith apples topped with a mound of Romaine lettuce, Gorgonzola cheese and toasted walnuts. Another wonderful salad includes red bliss potatoes, crisp green beans, sweet beets and goat cheese. It's one of their most popular items, and mine too
Brick Caf does a fine job with fresh fish, so ask for the fish of the day. One of my favorites is the oven-baked orata, a white, flaky, Mediterranean fish prepared with black olives and garlic sauce ($16.95). Striped bass fillet oreganata is another simple, yet delicious dish. For a light entre, try the grilled calamari, marinated in lemon and olive oil, and served on a bed of arugula and tomato salad.
One of the Brick Caf house specialties is pan-roasted breast of duck, rich in flavor and virtually free of any visible fat, dressed with a sauce of oranges and green peppercorns ($17.95). While grilled paillard of chicken with grilled vegetables is always on the menu, one evening's special featured chicken breast with roasted shallots, mushrooms, red peppers and red wine sauce. Grilled New Zealand baby lamb will melt in your mouth. Classic French style steak is a must have, as is a meaty veal chop grilled to order and topped with Portobello mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. On any given night the tempting specials may include cream of asparagus soup, pork tenderloin medallions with green mustard and homemade linguine with black squid sauce. All entrees come with fresh vegetables and fabulous mashed or oven- roasted potatoes.
The chef at Brick Caf also prepares fresh pasta dishes, such as tender, delicate spinach ravioli with butter and sage sauce ($10.95). Exotic black linguine is topped with a mound of fresh clams, shrimp, mussels, fresh tomato, garlic and oil for a satisfying meal.
Desserts at Brick Caf are also homemade and extra special. White chocolate mousse cake is a three-inch high cloud of fluffy white chocolate mousse, and the dark chocolate souffl is also fantastic. The chocolate bombe is a house favorite, and there's the sublime crme brulee, as well as their perfect crepes Suzette, filled with fruit jam.
Weekend brunch at Brick Caf is perfect for that special date or a get-together with friends or family. Served Saturday and Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., everything from a host of fluffy omelets to French toast to many of Brick Caf’s regular dinner items, soups and salads is offered. Don't forget the adjoining Brick Bar, a great place to have a drink and relax on the leather couches while listening to great music or chatting over an espresso. New at Brick Bar since the last time we visited is a bar menu, featuring elegant sandwiches on freshly baked bread.
Brick Caf is open seven days a week for dinner from 5 to 11 p.m., and for weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Dinner service begins at 5 p.m.
At Brick Caf, classic European bistro fare and casual, cozy dining, all at reasonable prices, make every visit special. Stop in soon.