2014-10-01 / Restaurant of the Week

The Astor Room

Embark on a culinary and historic journey through the Golden Age of movies while you dine like a star at the famous Astor Room at Kaufman Astoria Studios. The fabled Astor Room originally opened in 1920 as the “commissary” for stars such as W.C. Fields, Gloria Swanson, and the Marx Brothers in between takes in the movie studio. This is the current studio for hit shows Orange is the New Black and Nurse Jackie. Recent renovations and a change of management have restored The Astor Room to its golden sheen, making it a ‘must go’ for all Astorian residents and beyond.

There are several stars of this show: General Manager Mark Atkocaitis, and Michael Molnar, the Assistant GM and Bar Manager, work tirelessly to create a unique dining and social experience for their guests while Executive Chef, Nathaniel Felder works his magic in the kitchen. The imaginative, hand-crafted cocktails and exquisite food take center stage, whether you enjoy some snacks and drinks at the bar, settle in for a sumptuous dinner, or fabulous Sunday brunch.

The plush dining room features original hand-painted tile, tufted walls, wood ceiling, cut glass, and a handsome wood bar where you’ll feel as if Humphrey Bogart could walk in at any moment. There’s even a private banquet room for 45 people for a classy event, be it personal or business. There’s still time to enjoy outdoor seating with live music before the cooler weather settles in so hurry in.

First, we were served signature cocktails made from scratch from quality spirits, fresh fruit, spices and herbs, shaken on the spot and beautifully presented. My cardamom mint sidecar offered a new twist on a classic cocktail made with fresh cardamom pods, cognac, wild mint and Cointreau. The “Clara Bow” is bourbon-based with fresh lemon and special liqueur, while the classic “Sazerac” honors the New Orleans tradition. Feel free to enjoy a cocktail and inventive snacks at the welcoming bar such as house made hummus with crispy flatbread, mini fish tacos, or rosemary-honey glazed chicken drumettes.

Chef Nathaniel, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, will dazzle and inspire you with his bold, ambitious American menu that features fresh, simple ingredients, combined in unexpected ways. All diners are welcomed with fresh-from-the-oven biscuits, light and flaky, and piping hot corn bread, served in a cast iron skillet with lots of honey butter for reckless slathering. We delighted in some of his amazing starters such as the beef tartare which is hand chopped, prime filet mixed with aioli, capers, and cornichons, placed upon crispy flat bread for the ultimate “finger food”. Every night, a different flat bread pizza is featured for snacking. Ours was topped with potato, bacon, cheddar and sour cream for an indulgent nibble to complement our cocktails. Sure… you’ve all had fried calamari before…. but not like this. Imagine tender rings of fresh calamari coated in a crust of graham cracker crumbs with sweet and hot peppers for a unique combination of sweet, savory, and hot ($12). I would really like to tell you more about the “Scallop Oxtail” appetizer, but words fail me. Sufficet to say that you should try it and draw your own conclusions, as I did.

The menu keeps on enticing you with gazpacho and shrimp soup, tomato bisque with bacon and goat cheese garnish, and the verdant kale salad tossed with red watercress, crispy pancetta, dried cranberries and candied walnuts ($9). The classic wedge salad dresses a hunk of iceberg lettuce with high quality bleu cheese, onions and roasted tomatoes.

Next, a chef’s tasting of entrees began with an ever-so-delicate grouper, fresh from Florida waters, served with handmade raviolini and a fragrant broth of lemongrass consommé. Next came spiced, dry-rubbed baby back ribs in a divine sauce inspired by the chef’s North Carolina upbringing. We loved the accompanying cole slaw and fries but saved room for the hangar steak, prepared and presented in the French style, sliced and cooked to absolute perfection with a side of tarragon-scented succotash. I tried to remember the last time I’d had succotash and couldn’t, yet this one bears no resemblance to the mush that people of a certain age are accustomed to. Everything here is fresh, fresh, fresh, and bursting with flavor and ingenuity. The Rustic Chicken is a perfectly executed, oven-roasted chicken with potatoes, peas and pearl onions in pan juices ($22). The sides of potatoes au gratin and sautéed spinach are great too.

All throughout our meal, Michael brought us wine pairings that complemented each dish perfectly, even the decadent dessert of Nutella crème brulee. One might also want to try the chocolate chip bread pudding, but that’s just me.

Visit The Astor Room for dinner six nights a week from Tuesday to Sunday from 5pm to 11pm or for their fabulous brunch on Sundays from 11:30am to 3:30pm. You’ll dine like a movie star and get a glimpse of another age, all right here in Astoria, where it all began and continues today. Hats off to The Astor Room!

34-12 36th Street  Astoria


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