2012-12-26 / Restaurant of the Week


By Teresa Barile

Going to Portofino Ristorante is like going home to your favorite relative’s house for the most comforting meal you can have. For 38 years, Portofino has wined and dined New Yorkers, including families, friends, business associates, celebrities, and government officials. On a recent evening, a local councilwoman was enjoying a festive holiday dinner with staff. Nearby, Rose and Artie, who have been coming here since the beginning, enjoyed a meal and shared that they come for the great food and ambience, but mostly for Carmine, the gregarious, lovable star of the show.

You can’t miss Portofino, a veritable landmark on the corner of Queens Boulevard and Ascan Avenue in Forest Hills. You’ll be warmly greeted and lavished over from start to finish, as you enjoy a superior Italian meal in a comfortable setting with soft piano music. Start with a refreshing cocktail, such as a cool margarita, French martini, cosmopolitan, or a Portofino piña colada. A reasonably priced bottle of wine will complement your meal.

Start with one of their tempting appetizer specials: stuffed artichoke hearts filled with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and crispy bread crumbs, sautéed in a heavenly lemon butter sauce. Homemade soup such as tortellini in brodo will warm you, body and soul.

Grilled Portobello mushroom tastes like steak, served with asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes ($13.50). The hot antipasto is composed of your favorite shrimp, clams, mussels, stuffed mushrooms and delicate eggplant rollatini, with plenty to share ($12.95).

My eyes devoured the shrimp cocktail brought to nearby patrons, with shrimp the size of a hand. Carpaccio of sirloin beef is topped with shaved parmigiano, arugula and tomatoes for an Italian delicacy. Everyone loves the fried calamari and clams oreganata with garlicky sauce for dunking bread into. Portofino’s delicious and generously sized pasta dishes make an excellent entrée, or two can share one as a first course. The special pasta of the night was faggottini, or little purses, filled with gorgonzola cheese in a light sauce with walnuts, an ideal winter treat. From the menu, choose among lobster ravioli topped with a light cream sauce, risotto with woodsy mushrooms sprinkled with grated parmigiano cheese, or tortellini alla Romana, tossed with sautéed broccoli, fresh chunks of tomato and sun-dried tomato. Green fettuccine is topped with frutta di mare including clams, mussels, calamari, scallops and shrimp in a light tomato garlic sauce ($21.95). Farfalle alla Portofino combines bow tie pasta with chunks of filet mignon, sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli and garlic. Even nonna would approve of Portofino’s manicotti, ziti or lasagna. Chicken Cristina sautées chunks of white meat chicken with tender artichoke hearts, mushrooms and cream sauce, served over pasta if you wish. Chicken Valdostana is labeled as their most popular dish, and with good reason. Tender chicken cutlets are layered with prosciutto and mozzarella, then sautéed with marsala wine and mushrooms. This is the perfect time of year to enjoy the classic chicken cacciatore stewed with tomatoes, peas and mushrooms, poured over pasta. Osso-buco is a popular Florentine dish made by slow-cooking veal shank in a rich brown reduction sauce. This dish is consistently delicious and something you’ll surely come back for.

Portofino offers the freshest fish and seafood, with great nightly specials to feature them. The monk fish I had was so fresh, lightly pan seared with lemon, white wine and savory capers. Big, juicy shrimp are prepared with scampi sauce, spicy fra diavolo sauce or oreganata style with breadcrumbs, butter and lemon. Striped bass fillet was also on the menu, prepared with shrimp and scallops for a seafood feast. All meat, chicken and fish dishes are served with a side order of pasta or fresh vegetables, such as broccoli, sautéed escarole, or broccoli rabe.

Portofino Ristorante is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, from 11 am to 11 pm. Sunday Brunch is very special, served from 11am till 4pm, featuring lots of breakfast items, such as eggs and pancakes, as well as soups, salads, a carving station, chicken, veal entrees, pastas and more. The low price of $21 includes a drink, dessert and coffee and piano music plays throughout. The original pizzeria at the front of the restaurant delivers non-stop. The fabulous and popular Tuesday night buffet includes homemade soups, three kinds of tossed salad served with warm foccaccia bread, and garlicky mussels in white wine sauce to get started. Entrees change each week to please the crowds but may include chicken marsala, sautéed fish, homemade lasagna rollups, beef and potatoes, meatballs marinara and eggplant parmigiana. The fixed price of $25 even includes fresh fruit salad and a dessert of tiramisu, cheesecake or creamy flan.

Portofino will be open on New Year’s Eve from 11:00am until midnight. They will be closed on New Year’s Day. Gift certificates make the perfect gift for any occasion and don’t forget to plan your next party or business event here. Portofino Ristorante is your favorite Italian spot, today and always.

109-32 Ascan Avenue  Forest Hills


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