2006-09-13 / Restaurant of the Week

nThere's More Than Fine Dining At Baco Restaurant

ewly opened Baco Restaurant invites diners to delight their senses with one of the best fusions of Mediterranean and Caribbean cuisine in a lovely setting

on Steinway Street

in Astoria. The casual faade features an attractive awning and French doors that open

to the bar area. Fitted with flat

screen televisions, this separate bar n

area is a comfortable place to enjoy a cocktail, beer or wine from the fully stocked bar while enjoying a game and chatting with friends. The barman mixes up a powerful Singapore Sling, mojitos, Bellinis, and something called a matador, that's likely to improve your mood. Just beyond the bar, more French doors open to reveal a spacious dining room with clean wood floors, walls in warm colors adorned with oil paintings and beautiful floral arrangements. The dining room is large enough to hold 200 people for a private party, even a wedding.

I was surprised by the quality of the cuisine, given that the atmosphere is unassuming and relaxed, and the prices are easy on the wallet. Owners Manuel Monsanto, Jose Peralta and Chef Jorge Lopez have done a fine job of creating an upscale menu that offers Mediterranean cuisine and Caribbean dishes, each executed beautifully and prepared to order. This restaurant also offers a substantial variety of reasonably priced wines from Spain, Italy, France and California, and its name, Baco, the Italian version of the Latin Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, bears this out.

We started with tender and delicious fresh coconut shrimp prepared with a splash of rum and sprinkled with flaked coconut and lime juice ($10). Next, we tried savory chorizo sausage sautéed in a red wine sauce, perfect for sopping up with crusty bread ($6). Next time I'll try the swordfish fritters fried in beer batter. Shrimp bisque made with a rich fish stock is creamy and delicious. Tropical salad, Greek salad or chilled lobster salad with mango and mint are all great ways to start your meal as well.

Baco specializes in fresh seafood and quality meat. I tried their signature Baco sea bass, made with a touch of curry and Dijon mustard and placed atop a puree of a root vegetable indigenous to the Caribbean. The combination of flavors and textures was perfect, and didn't overwhelm the delicate fish. A nice medley of vegetables rounded out the dish. You can also order sea bass stuffed with sweet crabmeat for a double dose of fresh seafood. Fresh Atlantic salmon is prepared in a tomato vodka sauce and served with rice for $17. Lobster tails are grilled with a blend of spices to bring out the natural sweetness of the meat.

Lopez grills up a juicy 16-ounce rib-eye steak to the diner's liking. Tender skirt steak is accompanied by chimmichurri sauce made from parsley, garlic, oil and vinegar. Ask for a side dish of pink beans, stewed with delicate herbs for hours, and some fluffy white rice. We also sampled the breast of chicken, stuffed and rolled with three kinds of cheese, all of which melted into one delectable sauce ($15). Tender pork fillet is sautéed and drizzled with

sweet prune sauce, for a tasty meal. Classic roast leg of lamb is scented with fresh rosemary.

It was hard to skip paella marinera with seafood, classic arroz con pollo and some pasta dishes, but there's always next time. We finished off our meal with freshly brewed coffee and a fantastic light and creamy coconut flan. There's also a tempting passion fruit mousse and custard made from three kinds of milk.

Every Saturday and Sunday evening, you can dance the night away downstairs in Baco's spacious lounge. The DJ plays all kinds of dance music till the wee hours and you can burn off some calories while you have a great time. You can also rent this room for a private affair. For catered events, three menus are prepared, starting at just $35 per person, including soda. Call for more details.

Come for a drink after work with appetizers at the bar, or enjoy a relaxing dinner in the beautiful dining room at Baco. Dance all night on Saturdays and Sundays. Welcome Baco Restaurant to the neighborhood, just off the Grand Central Parkway on the north side of Steinway Street.

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