Last month we saw the launch of the very first Arts District in Queens, appropriately named the Kaufman Arts District, designated as the area between 31st Street and Steinway, and between 34th Avenue and 37th Avenue. Right in the very heart of that district sits one of Astoria’s most historic dining spaces, located beneath Kaufman Astoria Studios.
Originally built as the commissary to the studio opened by the legendary Adolph Zukor in 1920, the space is affectionately known as the Astor Room. The studio eventually became the home of Paramount Pictures, and over the next two decades, over 120 silent and sound ?lms were produced here. From the Marx Brothers to Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson and W.C. Fields, Astoria was home to the brilliant talents of an exciting new industry who all dined within the walls of the Astor Room.
A particularly talented staff of mixologists has updated the Astor Room to become a relevant part of today’s Astoria, and so we stopped to visit with bartender Michael Molnar to learn some of the secrets of his favorite dishes and drinks. What follows are some of Molnar’s personal favorites.
“The Beef Tartar, with a blend of shell steak and filet, is lightly seasoned with crushed capers, diced shallots, and chives, bound with a delicious truffle herb aioli. A true delicacy.
“Our Beefsteak Tomato Salad has thickly cut tomatoes, creamy blue cheese, red onion, Mache, and is topped with a sherry vinaigrette. Perfect in the summer with fresh Long Island tomatoes.
“A Crispy-Skin Striped Bass is pan-roasted, then served on a bed of artichoke puree with toasted quinoa. It is then topped by sautéed oyster mushrooms and a port wine reduction. Incredibly earthy and satisfying.
“Our popular Mac & Cheese blends three delicious cheeses (gruyere, fontina and white cheddar) over cavatappi pasta (long, hollow corkscrew noodles). It is lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, then toasted with a breadcrumb gratinati.
“The Sazarac Cocktail blends Old Overholt Rye, Peychaud’s Bitters, Angostura bitters, demurara and an Absinthe rinse of a rocks glass, served neat with a blade of lemon.
“Finally, our Cardamom Mint Sidecar showcases Xante cognac, muddled mint and cardamom pods, fresh lemon juice and Cointreau. Everything is firmly shaken and served up with a sprig of mint.”
The Astor Room is closed on Mondays but open for dinner beginning at 5 p.m. every other day of the week. Don’t miss out on shellfish cocktails and an excellent raw bar. And be sure to stop by on Sunday for a brunch that features many of the restaurant’s entrees crowned with an egg, from fried oysters to a classic benedicts. The real headliner of this in-between meal is the Astor Disaster: brioche French toast is stacked with eggs any way, bacon, barbecue short ribs, cheddar cheese and onion rings. Now, that is a disaster we can celebrate.
34-12 36th St., Astoria
5 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday
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