2009-10-28 / Restaurant of the Week

718 Restaurant

718 Restaurant offers a taste of Europe right here in Astoria. 718 opened six years ago by two brothers:

Chef Rafael Sutter and Benny Sutter, who hail from Alsace, in the northeast region of France. Chef Rafael introduces us to wonderful dishes from this region of his native France while incorporating touches of Spanish influences. This gustatory mélange results in memorable meals, complemented by fine wine and expert service. Benny is the consummate “front man” at this cozy corner restaurant which features a metro-chic, sophisticated décor highlighted by a welcoming bar bedecked in Mediterranean tile. Sleek, upholstered banquettes allow for intimate dining and conversation over a sumptuous meal.

Start with one of their house cocktails chosen from an extensive list. The mango or raspberry margaritas are two of the most popular, thanks to the perfect mix of fruit flavors. The wines and beers keep pace with the fine food and one can enjoy them at the bar, if they wish, with a number of tempting tapas meant to share and nibble. A cheese plate with brie, chevre, Roquefort, Swiss, apples and walnuts makes the perfect snack. Grilled shrimp salad is tossed with mango and cucumber for a light refreshing tapa ($9). The tarte flambé is a classic Alsatian treat. This delicious tarte resembles a pizza, but is topped with caramelized onion, cheese and bits of smoky bacon, reflecting the flavors from the region of France which borders Germany and Switzerland. A classic charcuterie plate gets a Spanish twist from chorizo sausage, along with pate de campagne, salami, cornichon and mustard ($14). I'm intrigued by the “lovely” tuna sandwich with tomato, mango and spicy mayo and will try it on my next visit.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Pumpkin Cheesecake 718 is happy to offer specially priced dinners each night of the week, except Saturday. Monday offers a choice of 4 kinds of steak for $14 each. Tuesdays, “les moules” which are fresh mussels prepared with white wine and herbs ($12). Tarte flambees cost only $9 on Wednesdays and Thursday nights feature pasta, including a fantastic handmade gnocchi that I tried. Friday nights invite you to discover France at $16 and Sunday night's prix fixe dinner cannot be surpassed at just $22 for 3 courses plus coffee, served from 5:30 to 10:00pm. Sunday brunch is also an excellent value as it includes a brunch cocktail, appetizer, main course and dessert for $22. Reservations are suggested as this is a hot ticket in town.

I appreciate menus that are limited to one page which translates into dishes that are fresh, perfectly executed and consistent. Benny provided us with a sampling of 718's bestloved dishes beginning with an appetizer of rich, savory braised short ribs. The meat rendered easily from the bone and the red wine sauce complemented the disks of crispy polenta underneath the meat. Finally, the ribs were topped with tender slices of foie gras, a decadent touch that makes this dish extraordinary ($16). To lighten things up, a surprise dish of Ecuadorian shrimp ceviche combines fresh seafood marinated in lime juice, cilantro, tomato and mango ($12). A pairing of crab cake and salmon cake is another popular dish, served with tomato marmalade and apple ginger mayonnaise. The tarte flambees also make an excellent starter, shared by two. Whether you choose the classic tarte, tuna, chicken or vegetable, these crispy tartes are very satisfying.

For our main course, our efficient waiter delivered grilled striped bass in a light lemon sauce with sautéed artichokes, over delicate, handmade gnocchi. Classic steak au poivre is enhanced by a reduced cognac and peppercorn sauce and their fabulous frites! Roasted rack of veal is prepared the Alsatian way, with burgundy sauce and gratin dauphinois….no passport is required for this delectable, perfectly executed dish. Tender breast of duck is drizzled with passion coriander sauce and served with puree of potato.

Under no circumstances should you pass on dessert. Just for Halloween weekend, a very special pumpkin cheesecake is being prepared for guests. The trio of créme brulee is a triple play of ecstasy with vanilla, coffee and chocolate flavored créme brulee, each with its crispy, caramelized sugar crust. I love the sound your spoon makes as it breaks through to the creamy custard. I've checked my thesaurus and there are no words to describe the warm, molten chocolate cake, so just try it and enjoy this rich chocolate confection for yourself. Classic tarte tartin is an apple tart, served warm with vanilla ice cream. Finish with an espresso or after dinner cordial from the bar while you reflect upon your meal.

718 is open seven days a week for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. The prix fixe lunch ($16) includes grilled hanger steak with shallot red wine sauce, sandwiches, salads and more along with soup and coffee. 718 provides a singular dining experience punctuated by unique dishes, fine wine and efficient service. For lunch, dinner, brunch or evening tapas, 718 is your number for a memorable meal in Astoria.
718 Restaurant
35-01 Ditmars Blvd.
Astoria • 718-204-5553
www.718restaurant.com

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