2007-01-24 / Restaurant of the Week

Ponticello Offers Fine Northern Italian Specialties

46-11 Broadway, Astoria + 718-278-4514 www.ponticelloristorante.com
by Teresa Barile

          Long-time friends Luigi Kucica and Joe Honovic have remained steadfast in their dedication to serving the finest quality Northern Italian cuisine at Ponticello Ristorante- so steadfast, in fact, that in just a few months, they'll celebrate 25 years at their Astoria dining spot. The clientele includes families, friends, co-workers and a Who's Who of New York dignitaries, including senators and business people, who come to Ponticello for the combination of exceptionally good food, impeccable service and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere that makes any meal a singular dining experience. It's no wonder Ponticello has been awarded the prestigious 5- Diamond Award for Culinary Excellence by the American Academy of Hospitality Science.

          Ponticello's charming, tuxedo clad waiters tend to your every need. If there's something in particular that you crave, just ask your waiter. Before you even decide on your first course, a plate of cured salami and aged Parmigiano is swiftly brought to your table along with a loaf of warm bread. Enjoy a bottle of fine wine and settle in for a lovely meal. The menu offers nearly everything you would want from a fine Italian restaurant, all excellently prepared and presented. Many of the dishes served at Ponticello are family recipes from Istria, in the northern reaches of Italy and the Croatian border, where Kucica and Honovic come from.

Ponticello prides itself on its daily specials, which incorporate the freshest of seasonal ingredients.

Appetizers include fresh mozzarella with house-roasted red peppers and a drizzle of fine olive oil. Sweet crabmeat rests on perfectly ripened avocado for a light and flavorful appetizer. Handmade ravioli filled with sweet lobster are topped with a light sauce and make a perfect starter to whet your appetite. You can also order them as an entrée course, if you wish. The risotto of the day made with porcini and shiitake mushrooms had nearly intoxicating woodsy aroma and intense flavors.

Calamari and octopus are tossed with garlic, fragrant olive oil and lemon for seafood salad, made fresh each day. Jumbo shrimp cocktail, a menu standard, is superb here. Fresh fish and seafood are important in the Istria region's cuisine. Your waiter will tell you about fresh fish selections of the day, such as sea bass, monk fish, swordfish and more, prepared any way you'd like, such as monk fish brodetto, in a light broth, served with rich polenta. Lobster is available daily at market prices and plump, jumbo shrimp can be prepared any way you choose.

Hearty meat dishes play a starring role in Northern Italian cuisine; offerings vary according to the bounty of the season. Ponticello's signature dish, my personal favorite, is undoubtedly the osso buco. A veal shank is slow cooked for hours in rich stock reduced to a divine sauce that covers the homemade gnocchi that accompany the meat. A variation made with a hefty lamb shank is also offered. Try this meal to experience the rich flavor and texture of Northern Italian cooking. Tender roasted lamb is seasoned with herbs and served with oven-roasted potatoes. Roasted rack of lamb cooked to your liking and served with sautéed vegetables and roasted potatoes is a visual and culinary feast. Filet mignon is cooked to tender, juicy perfection and topped with mushroom sauce. Veal paillard pounded for extra tenderness is served on the bone. Calves' liver prepared Venetian style is another northern delicacy. Entrees are served with Ponticello's homemade crisp, fried potato slices, fresh sautéed vegetables or mashed potatoes with cabbage, an Istrian specialty and a side dish you must try. Handmade pasta such as gnocchi, fuzzi and pappardelle, can be ordered with a rich veal sauce that will please your taste buds.

Your waiter will tempt you with a platter of desserts, including the creamiest Italian cheesecake I've ever had, as well as chocolate mousse cake, warm apple strudel with vanilla ice cream or fresh fruit zabaglione. Cappuccino or espresso is a perfect finish.

A business lunch is available on weekdays, with a fixed price menu that includes soup or mozzarella and roasted peppers, an entrée, coffee and dessert. In addition, private parties of several sizes can be accommodated in rooms that hold 40, 50 or 60 people. Menus start at $65 and can be customized for any special occasion. An intimate room downstairs holds part of the elaborate wine cellar on one wall, and boasts bookshelves and a fireplace on the other. A business dinner or family party of 15 guests will be an extra special one in Ponticello's VIP room.

When you and your family and friends visit, you'll quickly see why Ponticello Ristorante is so deserving of its 5-Diamond Award. Ponticello Ristorante is on my list of top restaurants in Queens and I always look forward to returning. See their Web site for more details and menus. Buon Appetito!

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