2009-09-02 / Restaurant of the Week

Campagnola

I recently had the pleasure of attending a grand opening celebration of

Campagnola Cucina Italiana e Pizzeria,

located on 35th Avenue in Astoria. This spacious, bi-level restaurant features warm terra-cotta and golden yellow colored walls adorned with paintings of Italian scenes. Tidy tables covered in linens rest on the main floor as well as on the two balconies that flank it. These balconies make ideal spots for your private party, with accommodations for up to 125 people. The opening celebration was attended by dozens of friends and families who wished owner Dom Vezza well in this new restaurant.

Judging by the high quality of the food and service, Campagnola is sure to be a success. Campagnola can be translated to mean "country kitchen" and in Italy, this translates to great food. Campagnola offers handmade pasta, delicious wood-fired pizza, fish, meat, salads and more to reflect the bounty of Italian cuisine. Let's get started with some delicious baked clams, served golden brown made from sweet, juicy clams. Fried rings of calamari are tender and crispy, accompanied by zesty tomato sauce. Nothing says summer like fresh, still warm mozzarella di buffalo served with artichokes, prosciutto and oven roasted tomatoes ($9). Antipasto misto offers slices of Italian meats and cheeses for two to share, along with the warm focaccia served straight out of the pizza oven. In fact, you may choose to start your meal with a slice of their fabulous pizza which is always made from fresh, not processed mozzarella and house made sauce. All your favorite toppings are there too, and all meals at Campagnola can be delivered to your home or office in the area.

Cool salads include the house favorite; Insalata di pera, which is composed of arugula, endive, sliced pears and seedless grapes with shaved pecorino romano cheese. The Arlecchino salad layers grilled carrots, peppers, zucchini and sweet corn with tomato and crumbled goat cheese for a healthy and satisfying salad ($9). The classic tre colori is bright and flavorful with its addition of asparagus and gorgonzola.

Each night features pasta specials, such as handmade ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta or orecchiete pasta with sausage and broccoli rabe. On the menu, you'll find over a dozen pastas to choose among, all fresh and perfectly cooked "al dente". Spinach fettuccine are topped with fresh tomato, basil and garlic with chunks of mozzarella ($12). Rigatoni Siciliana are toothsome pasta topped with tender eggplant, tomato and mozzarella that just begins to melt as it arrives at your table. Tiny gnocchi are light and tender, topped with tomato sauce and shaved ricotta salata. Cavatelli pasta are made with peas then topped with a sauce of hot and sweet sausage ragu and a touch of cream. Tagliolini alla gamberi are ribbon pasta topped with plump shrimp, green beans, potatoes and pesto for a taste of summer. Pasta dishes can be ordered as an entrée, or shared as a first course.

Next, our waiter tempted us with his description of a whole bronzino fish, roasted and filleted table-side. This white, flaky fish has a lot of flavor and needs just a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil to enhance its natural flavor. The roasted fingerling potatoes and sautéed escarole that accompanied this dish were just right. There are also salmon dishes, red snapper and a fish stew called "cioppino" (cho-PEE-no) on the menu, as well as a fritto misto of fried shrimp, scallops, calamari and zucchini.

Veal cutlet cappriciosa is one of my favorites and my dining companion loved this tender, breaded veal cutlet, topped with a fresh salad of arugula, tomato and red onion ($18). The New York strip steak compares to any in a steak- house, cooked to order and prepared with a balsamic reduction. The hefty grilled veal chop will satisfy even the heartiest of appetites, served with creamy mashed potatoes and fresh sautéed vegetables. Next time I'll try the oven roasted rack of baby lamb with goat cheese and tarragon mashed potatoes. A number of inventive chicken dishes includes pollo zingara, sautéed with sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers and white wine. Organic baby chicken is tender and succulent, served with broccoli rabe ($15).

For dessert, try the house tiramisu, rich chocolate cake, vanilla bread pudding or fruity sorbet. A cup of espresso puts a cap on this wonderful meal. Campagnola is open seven days a week for lunch, dinner and pizza all day and all night. They're open 11am to 11pm on weekdays and until 2am on weekends. Campagnola offers authentic country style Italian cuisine, fine wines, great service and a family-friendly environment. Remember Campagnola for your next party or special occasion. Visit their Web site for more information. Buon appetito!

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