2010-03-31 / Restaurant of the Week

Da Franco Ristorante Italiano

Spatola greets customers with a smile. The warm, rustic dining room is decorated in terra cotta colors, with plastered walls, wood floors and tables topped with antique maps of Italy. This weekend, Da Franco’s is the perfect place for Good Friday fish or a big Easter Sunday dinner for the entire family. Weather permitting, you can eat outdoors on the terrace while you enjoy the fabulous Italian cuisine. Franco was born in Italy but has spent the last 40 years here in Queens in the restaurant business. Franco has a very successful mozzarella factory which produces excellent cheese for the restaurant industry. His amazing mozzarella, buttery and tender, is incorporated into many of the dishes made here, including the “just like Italy” brick oven pizza. Nearly everything is made in house including the pizza, the bread, cheeses, pasta, sauces and desserts for maximum flavor and freshness.

Ryan, our very polite and efficient waiter, suggested we try the pizza as an appetizer and we happily agreed. The classic Margherita was just perfect…thin, crisp crust, fresh tomato, herbs and oh, that wonderful handmade mozzarella. Pizza alla Modena is topped with cherry tomatoes, paper thin slices of prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula and shaved Parmigiano cheese. No wonder it’s one of the most popular, and you can have your pizza made with whole wheat crust for extra bite. Best of all, the fantastic pizza or anything on the menu can be delivered to your home or office.

We shared a bottle of red wine from Sicily, and their list starts at $20, in reach to all. From the appetizer menu, we shared an order of polenta topped with savory gorgonzola cream sauce and roasted peppers which we quickly devoured. Perfectly grilled eggplant are drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and served with slices of Franco’s own smoked mozzarella, which is buttery and smoky tasting, marrying both flavors beautifully.

Clams ore- ganata are made with fresh Little Neck clams topped with seas oned bread crumbs and garlic, baked in garlic, lemon and white wine sauce that that you’ll want to soak up with slices of their house made focaccia served piping hot from the oven. Juicy, meaty mussels are prepared with lots of garlic, lemon and white wine

for another excellent starter, ideal for sharing ($7.95). An assortment of fried calamari, shrimp and fresh sardines is prepared with a dusting of seasoned flour and quickly fried till golden and crispy. This is a typical dish in Southern Italy and you’ll never have sardines as good as these. Tiny balls of handmade mozzarella are tossed with sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a classic Italian starter. One of the most popular salads is composed of arugula, fennel, toasted walnuts, sliced apples and shaved Parmigiano cheese for a burst of flavors and textures ($7.95).

 

In Italy, the “primo piatto” or first plate, is always pasta and Da Franco’s house made pasta should not be missed. I chose whole wheat fettuccine topped with tender shrimp, vegetables, tomato, garlic and oil and enjoyed every last bit ($15.95). Rigatoni Siciliana is prepared with chunks of tender eggplant, a light tomato basil sauce and black olives, topped with shaved sheep’s milk cheese ($12.95). Orecchiete pasta are “little ears” tossed with sautéed broccoli rabe, lots of garlic and grilled, sliced sausage making this a house favorite. Next time I’ll try the handmade ravioli filled with wild mushrooms and cheese, then topped with truffle oil cream sauce. Toothsome risotto is creamy and especially delicious when made with chunks of tender filet mignon, Portobello mushrooms and port wine ($21.95). Risotto with shrimp and asparagus is the perfect springtime dish. Of course there’s traditional meaty lasagna and baked ziti, Italian comfort food.

Da Franco’s fish and seafood is the freshest available, purchased at market. My dining com panion loved the fillet of grouper Livornese style, with cherry tomatoes, capers, olives and basil in white wine sauce ($17.95). Red snapper oreganata is topped with seasoned breadcrumbs, garlic and oil and broiled until golden and crisp. Plump shrimp are offered a number of ways including fra diavolo style in a piquant sauce.

If you prefer meat, the rack of lamb is one of the finest I’ve had, cooked to perfection and topped with sautéed onions, mushrooms and Cabernet reduction. Tender veal or chicken cutlets are sautéed alla Marsala, alla Francese, or layered with eggplant, prosciutto and that wonderful mozzarella. All meat and fish entrées are served with vegetables and creamy mashed potatoes. There are so many other tempting entrées on the extensive menu, one visit is simply not enough to enjoy all these classic Italian dishes.

The chef’s desserts include “tres leches” cake made with three kinds of milk, tiramisu, key lime pie, white chocolate pie with Oreo crust, buttermilk chocolate cake and imported gelato, also available to go. Don’t forget a rich espresso or cappuccino to finish off the meal. Da Franco will gladly deliver to your home or office and can provide expert catering services. Parties can be accommodated from 20-75 people. Da Franco Ristorante Italiano is open seven days a week from noon until 10pm for lunch, dinner and their famous brick oven pizza. “Si mangia bene” at Da Franco’s, which means “you eat well” here. Bon appetito!
 

Da Franco Ristorante Italiano
23-92 21st Street
Astoria • 718.267.0010
www.dafrancoitalianrestaurant.com

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