2006-06-28 / Restaurant of the Week

Locale Café and Bar

33-02 34th Avenue, Astoria + 718.729.9080
by Teresa Barile

One of the cardinal rules of the restaurant and hotel industry is that location is crucial. With management ever mindful of this dictum, Locale opened eight months ago on a pleasant corner at 34th Avenue and 33rd Street, a location that allows its large, manypaned windows to show off the lovely interior. Patrons inside get to people watch from the comfortable dining room and lounge area, both of which combine an industrial look with warm, rustic materials. Better yet, diners can sit outside and dine al fresco or share some of Locale's fabulous martinis with their favorite companions.

Owner Johnny Koljenovic is proud of Locale's martinis, which were uniquely designed to refresh and invigorate the senses. The signature Locale martini or French, passion fruit, espresso or chocolate martinis are just some of the varieties to come out of a shaker on the spot. What could be more refreshing on a hot summer night that a lemon mojito, made with crushed mint leaves? There's also an extensive wine list to complement the food, which is upscale in quality and flavor, yet reasonable in price.

Chef Jose Ayers works wonders in the kitchen, where Italian food is elevated to levels rarely seen outside of Manhattan's top restaurants. We started with a dish of grilled baby calamari, scallops and jumbo shrimp on a bed of tender arugula with a lemon dressing. Crisp artichokes with a twist of lemon speak of summer ($7.50). Carpaccio of salmon smoked and sliced paper-thin rests upon a bed of greens ($8.95). A cool salad of beets, orange slices, hearts of palm and crumbled goat cheese gets a citrus kick from orange vinaigrette dressing ($8.50). If you're not up to a full meal or you want a late-night treat, assorted cheeses and fruit can be paired with cocktails or wine.

The Bar at Locale Café The Bar at Locale Café The list of tempting entrees includes imported, fresh pasta with the chef's special sauces. Wholewheat pasta spirals are tossed with tuna, radicchio, garlic and olive oil for a light and healthy dish ($13.95). Black linguine with fresh mussels, shrimp, squid and scallops is prepared with choice of red sauce or garlic and oil ($15.95). Wide, ribbon pasta pappardelle cradle a rich sauce of wild mushroom, tomato and a splash of cream, making this a truly memorable dish. The chef makes his own potato gnocchi, and then tops them with a chunky tomato and basil sauce that will transport you.

The specials of the day may include Italian fish soup called brodetto, replete with fresh fish and seafood in a rich stock. Locale features three or four fish dishes each day, guaranteeing the freshest quality at market. Whole bronzino is a white, flaky Mediterranean fish that is prepared with herbs and grilled to perfection. Fillet of tilapia, another popular fish dish, is served with clams, mussels and a touch of tomato ($17.50). Salmon with Dijon mustard gets an additional boost from green peppercorns.

Pollo al limone is comprised of two French-style breasts of chicken with baby squash, asparagus and capers in a subtle lemon sauce, while pollo Contadina is a hearty dish of dark and white meat chicken with Italian sausage, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and cognac sauce ($14.95). Grilled pork loin with green peppercorns is served with a beautiful house salad.

Save room for amazing desserts, some frozen, imported from Italy, or try the chef's own tiramisu. Whatever the course on your table, service at Locale is delivered by a friendly, efficient staff that changes your silverware with each course, a nice touch.

Locale is perfect for Saturday and Sunday brunch, served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The $10.95 menu includes a fruit cup and three-egg omelets, along with toast and country sausage. There is a list of Panini sandwiches filled with goodies such as grilled chicken, grilled vegetables and cheeses that can be ordered for brunch or a late-night snack, as Locale's bar is open late into the evening.

A meal at Locale Café and Bar is a very special experience. Its combination of great location, ambience, food and cocktails makes it so. Locale is open seven days a week for dinner only on weekdays from 5 to 11:30 p.m. Brunch is served on weekends from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., followed by dinner service. Stop in any time for cocktails, wine, snacks and conversation as you sit on the comfortable velvet seats just above the dining area. Locale will be your location for good food and cocktails.

www.localeastoria.com

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