2011-09-21 / Restaurant of the Week

Da Franco Ristorante Italiano

Da Franco offers a relaxing escape from your hectic life with exceptional Italian food and wine. Located on a quiet stretch of 21st Street, near Astoria Park, you’ll find a peaceful dining room and outdoor terrace where you can dine on exquisitely prepared pasta, pizza, meat and fish dishes and lots more.

Owner Franco Spatola and his lovely wife

Esther make all their customers feels like family. Settle into the rustic, inviting dining room, painted in warm earth tones with wood floors and tables topped with antique maps of Italy. After coming to the U.S. from Italy, some 43 years ago, Franco opened a mozzarella shop, which today supplies many of New York’s famous restaurants, including his own.

Let’s start there, with this melt-in-your-mouth cheese, which makes many appearances on the menu. First, our salad, with cherry-sized morsels of mozzarella was tossed with sweet, red, roasted peppers and tomatoes, dressed in fine olive oil and basil. The warm focaccia is lighter than air and sprinkled with sea salt for irresistible texture and flavor. Da Franco makes what I would consider to be “the best” pizza in Astoria. Picture perfect from the brick oven, with the lightest, crisp crust, dressed with the perfect amount of tomato, his famous mozzarella, fresh basil leaves and perfect seasoning. I could eat one every day and since they deliver, you can have this pizza whenever you’d like. These pizzas can be topped with four cheeses in the “quattro formaggi”, mushrooms, artichokes, ham and more, though the purist in me just adores the classic pizza Margherita, made for the queen of Napoli in the 19th century. Many order this fantastic pizza as an appetizer to share, so they can sample it, while still leaving plenty of room for their main courses. Of course, a bottle of red wine from Sicily called “Nero d’Avola” goes well with pizza and more.

Other appetizers from the menu include clams oreganata, made with fresh Little Neck clams topped with seasoned bread crumbs and garlic, lemon and white wine sauce that you’ll want to soak up with slices of their hotfrom the-oven focaccia. Da Franco has introduced grilled octopus or “pulpo” that is out of this world. The octopus is so tender and has a wonderful grilled flavor, meant to be shared ($10.95). Many of the regulars love the fried calamari for their tender, crispy rings with zesty marinara sauce. There’s a new twist on Greek salad here, thanks to high quality, creamy, imported feta cheese. Remember, Franco’s in the cheese business, so he knows his cheese! I also love the beet salad, composed of mesclun greens, oranges, pine nuts and cherry tomatoes. Can we talk about meatballs? Da Franco’s meatballs are delicious and can be shared as a first course, served straight up or with melted mozzarella. Everything at Da Franco is made in house, from the secret recipe dough for the pizza and focaccia, to the tomato sauces, to the mozzarella, and even the pastas. There is nothing I love more than fresh pasta and the tender lightness of fresh pasta makes whatever you put on it taste even better. On this night, we devoured a plate of fettuccine alla Christine, topped with a generous amount of fresh shrimp, calamari, cherry tomatoes, arugula and the perfect amount of pesto sauce to enhance the flavors of the fresh seafood ($16.95). House made spaghetti can be ordered with spicy Puttanesca sauce with onions, olives and capers, or rich, meaty Bolognese sauce ($12.95). Classic spaghetti alle vongole is replete with fresh clams, white wine, garlic and oil ($14.95). Orecchiete pasta are “little ears” tossed with sautéed broccoli rabe, lots of garlic and grilled, sliced sausage making this a house favorite. Handmade ravioli are tender pasta pillows filled with wild mushrooms and cheese, finished with truffle oil cream sauce. Franco prepared his favorite risotto dish, with morsels of rib-eye steak. This risotto was creamy and delicious, flecked with sweet peas and topped with grated parmigiano.

Ask about the fresh fish of the day, such as tilapia baked in a pouch with clams, calamari and white wine. Red snapper oreganata is topped with seasoned breadcrumbs, broiled with garlic, oil and lemon juice. Enjoy a generous platter of juicy shrimp scampi with a side of pasta.

Grilled steak is cooked to order and served with potatoes and fresh vegetables of the day. Tender veal or chicken cutlets are sautéed alla marsala, alla Francese, or layered with eggplant, prosciutto and that buttery mozzarella.

Desserts include the chef’s own “tres leches” cake made with three kinds of milk, tiramisu, key lime pie, fruit sorbets and gelato. A steaming cup of robust espresso or cappuccino helps finish off the meal. Da Franco will deliver to your home or office and can provide expert catering services. Plan your next private party at Da Franco, for parties from 25 people. Why not have a pizza party with wine or beer for your next gathering, and enjoy lots of that wonderful pizza in a nice environment. Menus can be customized for your needs and the service is great. Da Franco Ristorante Italiano is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner from noon until 10 pm. For the best pizza in town, excellent Italian cuisine and wine, served in a comfortable setting, visit Da Franco Ristorante. Buon appetito!

Da Franco Ristorante Italiano

23-92 21st St., Astoria  718.267.0010

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