2008-09-24 / Restaurant of the Week

LOCALE

33-02 34th Avenue, Astoria 718.729.9080 www.localeastoria.com

S ince it opened three years ago, owner Johnny Koljenovic and his professional staff, led by Jessica and Kate, have dazzled patrons with fine food served in a chic, yet

comfortable setting. A new chef has taken

the already superior cuisine and elevated it to the highest standards of quality and presentation. Locale is ideally situated on the corner of 34th Avenue and 33rd Street, perfect for al fresco dining and people watching. From their fabulous cocktails and wine selection to the finest in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, there is something for everyone, and every dish is artfully presented and served at its peak of freshness.

Start with their eponymous martini, made with vodka, Cointreau and currant juice. Their elegant passion martini adds passion fruit puree and a splash of lemon. Dining indoors is also a pleasure at Locale. The sophisticated and sultry interior features cozy tables for romantic dining as well as a separate lounge area with plush sofas on the second level, just above the dining room. Feel free to come in just for a cocktail, glass of wine and conversation.

The menu includes plenty of choices in fresh, handmade pasta, meat, chicken and features fish each day. The list of appetizers includes wonderfully constructed salads, such as "Barbabietola Fredda", or "cold beet" salad that is artfully tossed with hearts of palm, crumbled goat cheese and mandarin orange slices ($8.50). Grilled Portobello mushrooms sliced over arugula with pistachio nuts and shaved parmigiana is practically an entire meal. Homemade vegetable barley soup is just the ticket as the nights get cooler. The crab cake is exceptional, prepared with a generous amount of sweet lump crab meat and spices with a dollop of dill sauce on the plate ($9.95).

There are about ten pasta dishes to choose among, each one prepared to order with fresh ingredients. One of the most popular is "Faggotini" or purse-shaped pasta filled with gorgonzola cheese and walnuts in a creamy sauce of mascarpone cheese and beet puree ($14.50). That evening the talented chef created an "open-face" ravioli topped with summer vegetables and plump shrimp that was simply out of this world. My dining companion and I shared the pasta entrées as a first course, simply because they were all too good to pass up. Farfalle affumicate is bow tie pasta with smoked salmon and peas in a delicate brandy sauce ($13.95).

Pollo al limone is a fork tender cutlet, sautéed in butter and lemon for a subtle flavor. The accompanying mashed potatoes and broccoli were just right. Pollo Marsala is made in a similar fashion, utilizing sweet Marsala wine and woodsy mushrooms. Pollo Contadina is a hearty dish made with white and dark meat chicken, sausage, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and cognac. Fresh meat and fish specials vary each day according to what's freshest at the market. That evening, a bronzino, also known as Mediterranean sea bass, was de-boned and butterflied and dressed in calamata olives and red pepper coulis. Fillet of salmon is sautéed in pancetta with lentil ragu. Tender filet of mignon was topped with mixed mushrooms atop a mound of garlic mashed potatoes.

Desserts are extra special here too, with warm, melted chocolate soufflé, imported Italian desserts and house made tiramisu. Locale is a very pleasant spot for Saturday and Sunday brunch, served from 11am to 4pm. Grilled panini with prosciutto and fontina cheese, grilled vegetables and goat cheese or grilled chicken breast, tomato and Asiago cheese are some tempting brunch options. Sugar dusted Texas toast is a feast, with or without Nutella ($7.50). The Locale burger is cooked to order and served with shoestring potatoes or house salad.

Café Bar Locale is open seven days a week for dinner only on weekdays from 5pm until 11:30pm, brunch on weekends from 11am to 4pm, followed by dinner service. On Friday and Saturday nights, the bar remains open until 3am for late night cocktails in a sultry, candle-lit setting. For fine dining at very reasonable prices, right in the neighborhood, Locale is your location of choice. The food and drinks are excellent and the service, friendly and professional. Visit their Web site for more information, or to arrange a private event.

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