2014-09-24 / Restaurant of the Week

LOCALE

Locale has long been an established favorite for fine food in Astoria, but the new co-owners, Chef John Parlatore and his wife, Jessica King-Parlatore, have brought to it a fresh infusion of creative energy, making the dining experience more exciting than ever. They’ve taken their love of all things local, from locally grown food, to the charm of their neighborhood in the vicinity of the restaurant at 33-02 34th Avenue, and infused that passion into their business. It was the couple’s goal, “To make a restaurant we would want to eat at while understanding the clientele that’s already here,” said Chef Parlatore. The results speak for themselves.

The changes in the restaurant’s interior are subtle, but have given the place a hipper feel. The walls have been whitewashed for a more spacious feeling, and over the bar classic movies are projected onto the white brick without sound, resulting in a kind of moving art engaging, but not distracting. Swinging jazz and standards play from the excellent sound system. The tables are a beautiful red-stained wood, the lighting is intimate, yet the floor to ceiling multi-paned windows connect you with the outside, where you can also enjoy dining al fresco when the weather is warm under brand new, bright red awnings.

Parlatore, whose family originally hails from Messina, Italy, has worked for the last 16 years as a chef in France, Italy, and all around Manhattan. He revises his menu eight times a year, he says, to keep the choices, “seasonal and inspirational”. He also uses influences from the various regions of Italy to lend variety to the menu. One thing that remains a constant, however, is a simple, freshly made (as are all his pastas) spaghetti with a tomato sauce he jars himself every summer with local tomatoes and herbs. As tempting as everything on the menu was, I couldn’t resist trying it, figuring if an Italian restaurant can get the red sauce right, everything else will probably fall into place. I was amazed by how flavorful and earthy it was, coating each strand of tender and toothsome pasta. With a dusting of aged pecorino, it was so completely satisfying I felt I wanted for nothing else. Yet I digress, for there was so much more. The first thing our charming server, Alex, brought to the table was a basket of homemade focaccia, infused with heady olive oil. I could have made a whole meal of the stuff. However, next up was a Kale Chickpea Salad, topped with shaved egg, tomato, onion, and gorgonzola dressing savory, crunchy, and delicious. Another sampling from the antipasto section of the menu brought us Balsamic Glazed Lamb Ribs, unbelievably tender on the inside, crisp on the outside, and redolent with Sicilian spices. The pasta arrived after that, the spectacular spaghetti with tomato sauce I already mentioned, and the pasta special of the night, a gemelli Carbonara that reminded me of a similarly wonderful dish I once had in Rome. We also tried the Crispy Gnocchi, lightly fried instead of boiled, which rendered the little dumplings delectably crisp, tossed in a spinach basil pesto, and topped with slices of ricotta salata. All of this was accompanied by a delightful Callia Alta Malbec, available by the glass or bottle as many of the wines are.

We didn’t have room for the Secondi Piatti (meat and fish entrees), but we’ll be sure to indulge next time. One dish that particularly caught my eye was the Delmonico Rib-eye with salsa verde, watercress, and rosemary truffle fried potatoes, very reasonably priced for a restaurant of this caliber. And speaking of truffles, be sure to check Locale’s Web site (Localeastoria.com) in the next few weeks to find out the exact date of the eight to 12 course tasting menu Chef Parlatore is calling Black Truffle Night, a decadent menu celebrating the Piedmont truffle, tentatively taking place the second week of November.

Of course, no meal is complete without dessert. We tried the Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake, served with a dollop of homemade espresso gelato dense and decadent and the Tahitian Vanilla Crème Brulee, smoky sweet and feathery-light. Locale offers dessert and gelato specials every day, so don’t forget to ask. And don’t hesitate to start off your meal with one of their creative cocktails like the “Biciletta” Campari, Pinot Grigio and club soda, or the “Catch and Release” Kraaken rum, Canton ginger and ginger beer. The restaurant also serves up brunch every Sunday which includes wonders such as Scampi and Grits, Lamb Hash Benedict, Sugar Dusted Texas Toast stuffed with Nutella, a fried eggplant and Burrata sandwich, and Smoked Atlantic Salmon Omelet, though the brunch menu also changes periodically.

There are lots of great restaurants in Astoria, no doubt about that, but locals and visitors to the area keep coming back to Locale, now with more great reasons than ever. “Change is good,” says Parlatore, “but we want it to be positive.” Experience that good change yourself and indulge in a wonderful meal at this updated neighborhood gem. You won’t be disappointed.

33-02 34th Avenue
Astoria  718.729.9080

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