Cinema Paradiso Offers Home-Style Italian Cooking
36-02 35th Avenue, Astoria + 718-786-6400
T his column starts the New Year with a brand new restaurant- one that harks back to the old days of home-style Italian
who hail from Sicily, are the proud owners of Cinema Paradiso, located next to the movie multiplex on 35th Avenue. This is the Lupos' second restaurant. The first, L'Italiano Trattoria in Bayside Hills, is also family run and very successful.
The prevailing motif for the décor at this spacious, bi-level restaurant is an Italian movie titled "Cinema Paradiso". The film tells the story of a young Italian boy growing up in a small town in Sicily through his love of the cinema. In one particularly endearing scene, the whole town gathers in the piazza to view a movie, which is projected on the wall of a building. The main floor dining room resembles that piazza, complete with iron balconies and stone floors. The walls hold black and white photos of famous Italian movie stars including Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani and Marcello Mastroianni.
A meal at Cinema Paradiso is a very personal experience, as Grazia Lupo is the master chef behind all the delicious dishes that come from Cinema Paradiso's kitchen. She uses the freshest ingredients, makes her own pasta and prepares each dish on the spot with an extra helping of TLC. All her care and attention makes the food, accompanied by affordable wines selected by Joe Lupo, the real star of Cinema Paradiso.
Start with la signora's grilled calamari, served on a fresh salad of arugula, radicchio and endive. A Sicilian salad combines fresh string beans, potatoes and tomatoes in a light dressing that speaks of summer. Fresh mussels in spicy red sauce are delicious and great to share, and a basket of toasted garlic bread makes short work of mopping up the juices ($12). Tender asparagus spears baked with bubbling mozzarella on top are also ideal for sharing. The brick oven at the entrance of the restaurant produces crisp pizzas with delicate crusts, perfect for lunch, dinner or as a shared appetizer. These hot, crisp pizzas are available in individual or full sized pies. Sicilian stuffed bread called faccia di vecchia is served straight out of the oven topped with olive oil and Pecorino Romano cheese.
In Italy, the primo piatto (first dish), served after the antipasto, is always pasta. Cinema Paradiso offers no less than a dozen pasta dishes each day, plus nightly specials, which may include house made fettuccine with fresh artichokes and pancetta, a dish that is etched in my gustatory memory. The menu's pasta dishes run from $12 to $16 and are served in generous portions. Farfalle boscaiola, bow tie pasta combines mushrooms and sausage in a light pink sauce for a nicely composed, satisfying dish. Orecchiette, or little ears, are house made pasta tossed with fresh, plump shrimp and broccoli for a fresh, lively dish. A hearty dish of tri-colored gnocchi with a sauce of four cheeses is the most delicious you'll ever eat. Fusilli served with a simple sauce of fresh tomato, basil, garlic and oil is in many ways Italian cooking at its finest, especially when the ingredients are the freshest available and the love is cooked right in.
Secondi piatti, or second dishes, include fresh fish, chicken and veal. The fillet of sole oreganata is the best I've ever eaten. All fish dishes are listed as specials of the day to ensure freshness, and this was no exception. The sole, topped with the crispiest, most delicate house-made breadcrumbs, was flaky and fresh. A squeeze of fresh lemon made this dish perfect. It came with a medley of freshly sautéed vegetables, which added color and texture to the meal. Jumbo shrimp stuffed with real crabmeat in white wine sauce were dazzlingly presented.
Tender veal or chicken scaloppini is prepared with thinly sliced prosciutto and fontina cheese in a light pan sauce. Pollo paesano presents layers of chicken with eggplant, prosciutto and melted mozzarella. Veal or chicken is also prepared in classic Marsala, Francese and piccata style for those interested in a new take on classic Italian dishes. Each night, Signora Lupo creates wonderful Sicilian specialties for you to enjoy. I encourage you to try one of her family's favorites for a unique and personal dining experience.
Finish your meal with one of Grazia Lupo's handmade pastries and desserts. Her panna cotta (cooked cream) is sublime, as is her Italian cheesecake, made with creamy ricotta. Light and airy cream puffs are filled with fluffy cream and dusted with confectioner's sugar. All the desserts go well with a cup of robust espresso or frothy cappuccino.
Cinema Paradiso is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, making it an ideal spot before or after a movie, or a visit to the Museum of the Moving Image just across the street. They offer free delivery and on and off premises catering service for your convenience. In warm weather, the terrace upstairs will be open for al fresco dining and the daily specials will reflect the season.
Visit Cinema Paradiso for the magic of the Sicilian kitchen and the cinema. Happy New Year, Queens residents!