2006-12-27 / Restaurant of the Week

Portofino Ristorante Is Perfect For Celebrations

109-32 Ascan Ave., Forest Hills  718.261.1239
by Teresa Barile

W e conclude a year of reviewing the fabulous dining in Queens with one of our longtime favorites, Portofino in

Forest Hills. Portofino has

been at its prominent location on Queens Boulevard and Ascan Avenue for the last 33 years. Carmine Polito, the congenial owner, knows his steady customers by name and has been providing a home away from home for generations of Queens residents— and a sterling reputation for his restaurant. At Portofino, good food, family and friends are celebrated seven days a week and you don’t need a reason to enjoy a fabulous meal here.

The secret of Portofino’s success is in serving delicious, freshly prepared Italian dishes in abundant portions for reasonable prices. The adjoining pizzeria offers great pizza and take-out dishes as well. For me, consistency is key and Portofino consistently cooks up all the favorites, with daily specials to try as well.

The barman can mix up a refreshing cocktail, such as a Portofino pina colada, a sassy martini or a Forest Kiss with champagne and Chambord. Affordable wines and beer are served and as you sip, you’ll be serenaded by live piano music five nights a week and strolling musicians on Tuesday nights.

Choose among Portofino’s classic Italian appetizers such as a cold antipasto platter, with thin slices of provolone, buttery mozzarella, prosciutto, pepperoni, olives and roasted peppers, accompanied by a basket of Portofino’s addictive garlic bread. Grilled Portobello mushrooms or stuffed artichokes offer plenty to share. Two or more diners should try the hot antipasto platter featuring baked clams, mussels, eggplant rollatini, breaded shrimp and stuffed mushrooms. Clams or mussels oreganata swim in a garlicky broth that begs to be soaked up with warm bread. Portofino salad is a medley of mixed greens, sliced, grilled chicken, tomatoes, asparagus, red and yellow peppers, fresh mozzarella and Parmigiano cheese in an aromatic vinaigrette dressing.

Portofino’s delicious pasta dishes make an excellent entrée or a first course that two can share. Tortellini alla Romana are tossed with sautéed broccoli, fresh chunks of tomato and sun-dried tomato topped with a fresh sprinkling of grated cheese for a truly satisfying dish ($13.95). Tender lobster ravioli with baby shrimp in a light cream sauce make any night special. One of my favorite pasta dishes is fettuccine alla Carmelina, a combination of broccoli rabe and Italian sausage with toothsome fettuccine, garlic and oil ($14.95). Bowtie pasta tossed with chunks of tender fillet mignon, sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli and garlic combine to make up farfalle Portofino. Baked pasta dishes such as lasagna, baked ziti or rich manicotti are real comfort food that even kids will eat. Pasta dishes start at $10.95 and come with a crunchy salad and garlic bread. On the subject of pasta and rice dishes, ask about the risotto of the day.

Chicken Valdostana is Portofino’s most popular dish and no wonder. Tender chicken breast is layered with prosciutto and mozzarella, then sautéed with Marsala wine and mushrooms ($19.95). Chicken breast pounded to fork tenderness and combined with fresh spinach, ham and cheese in a light brown sauce constitutes chicken saltimbocca. Juicy fillet mignon and rib-eye steaks are cooked to order and served with oven roasted potatoes and vegetables.

Some of the chef’s specials have become so popular that they are part of the regular menu to order any time. Osso buco, a popular Florentine dish, is slow-cooked veal shank in a rich brown reduction sauce. Veal della casa is sautéed with shrimp and asparagus in a light cream sauce. A menu offering of mouth-watering baby lamb chops with mushrooms sautéed in red Barolo wine is on my list of dishes to try next time.

Portofino specializes in the freshest fish and seafood prepared in a variety of creative ways. Fresh trout Portofino is baked with scallions and tomatoes, while fillet of sole marechiara is sautéed with mussels and clams in a light tomato sauce ($19.95). Fillet of sole Francese just melts in your mouth. Plump shrimp are prepared fra diavolo, scampi or oreganata style. All are superb. Tender shellfish in a light tomato sauce over a mound of linguine make up Portofino’s version of frutti di mare. Your waiter will describe the nightly fish specials such as fresh red snapper livornese, with scallops and clams. All meat, chicken and fish dishes are served with a side order of pasta or fresh vegetables.

The waiters will bring over a tempting dessert tray to tantalize you. Chocolate mousse parfait, strawberry parfait or creamy zabaglione layered with fresh berries are just some of the choices. Cakes include white chocolate mousse, with a texture that defies description and moist carrot cake. Have a steaming cup of cappuccino or espresso to top off the meal, or an after dinner cordial. The service, even on the busiest nights, is friendly and efficient.

Portofino Ristorante is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday brunch featuring lots of breakfast items, such as eggs and pancakes, as well as soups, salads, entrées, pastas and more, is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The low price of $15.95 includes a drink, dessert and coffee, and piano music plays throughout. The Tuesday night buffet is an all-you-can-eat feast for just $16.95.

Gift certificates are perfect for any occasion, private parties are happily arranged and valet parking is available. Portofino will be closed on New Year’s Day. On New Year’s Eve, brunch will be served and the restaurant will close at 7 p.m., allowing enough time to get in a great meal before you head out for other festivities. Celebrate any special occasion—the beginning of a new year, a birthday, an anniversary, a promotion— or make any night a special occasion at Portofino Restaurant in Forest Hills.

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