By Carol Brock
34-35 Broadway, Astoria
The awning over the doorway that meets the street had “Italian Restorante” on both sides in bold letters and “Bartolino’s” in bambino letters across the front. It is first and foremost a restaurant with fine Italian cooking with Sicilian touches.
Bobby Bartolino, chef proprietor, 14 years ago and just 23, opened a pizzeria, graduated to a pizzeria restaurant. Now, exclusively a restaurant, it seats 175 for private parties.
At age 3, always passionate about food, he watched the Italian cooking shows on channel 47 and held tight to his Mom’s and sister’s apron strings — literally.
Bobby and Lisa Marie, his wife and hostess, have a loyal following. One suggested that it would be a tasty idea to go Italian in Astoria, back to its roots when it was the stronghold of Greek and Italian cuisine.
The front dining room with cloths and scenes of Palermo and soft green decor, is the informal dining room open for dinner at 3 p.m. (except Tuesday) and at noon on Saturday and Sunday. The rear dining room is larger, more secluded, more elegant and more romantic with soft lighting and a rose on each table. Uniquely, a small, attractive bar is in between with Latin “vine veritas” “In wine there is truth”) at the right and Italian “buona fortuna” (“good fortune”) at the left. And if you can project six months ahead, there’s a charming little garden in the rear.
If waiters with outgoing personalities are your thing, you’ll find him at Bartolino's on Monday nights. He began his waitmanship by engaging us in a discussion of the proper way to serve-from the right or from the left and the perils that resulted in, in the past. He then announced the specials and ultimately presented the menu. Meanwhile my Latin knowledgeable dinner companion requested oil for dipping. (Produced tout suite. Hot antipasto intrigued-baked clam, eggplant rolletini, broiled shrimp and stuffed mushrooms-all dinner bell ringers. And it was for one which doesn’t happen often enough. But calamari with sauce (“You can judge a restaurant better by its calamari,” says he) was his choice. Sicilian salad won me over-tomato, onions, olives, basil, olive oil and potato. It was a delight-especially since I dote on olives and this had green and tiny, dark, Greek olives in abundance. The halved new potatoes bathed in olive oil and coated with Parmesan cheese, with sliced red onions, tomato wedges and basil was wonderful. I’d love it as lunch.
Three cheese salad with lettuce, tomato, provolone, mozzarella and fontina was another temptation. And there was insalata di mare, fresh seafood salad so popular a while back and now it almost came as a surprise. We noted the fish items: Salmon on a bed of spinach in a creamy garlic sauce and shrimp parmigiana, breaded shrimp topped with mozzarella and tomato sauce. Chicken Florentine was his choice and I must say I was captivated when it was placed before us, chicken breast topped with prosciutto and provolone in a spinach cream sauce. The sauce did it -large leaves of fresh spinach were very evident.
I was hungry for steak but the Italian way, broiled steak pizzaiola. The onion, slivered red pepper, tomato sauce shared honors with the thick steak done as requested — medium rare on the rare side. (Doggy-baggers note: The sauce makes a great lunch: Poach an egg or two in).
At dessert time our waiter presented each of us with a Bindi card with color photographs of the Italian import desserts. It was the fruit tart for him and the semi fredo for me.
One regret — We didn’t have pasta. Sharing it for an appetizer would have been an option. Porchini ravioli with in a white sauce with chopped fresh tomato. Or meat or cheese tortelini carboonara. Or gnocchi al pesto or gnocchi Bolognese. There surely would be green peas in the Bolognese sauce. It is said that whenever you see green peas in a dish, even lasagna, it’s a sure sign of southern Italian Sicilian cooking.
So, follow the green pea trail to Bartolino's.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Italian cuisine with a touch of Sicilian. Formal and informal dining rooms. Bar in between. Garden in rear. Personable service.
Food: Italian cuisine Setting: Two dining rooms. Formal and informal. Bar In between Service: Personable Hours: D 3 pm, Mon. Wed, Thurs, Fri. From 12 pm Sat ansck Sun Location: Hoyt Ave Exit Credit cards: All major Dress: Casual Takeout: Yes Off premise catering: Yes Children: Own menu Private parties: To 175 Noise level: Moderate Smoking: Bar Handicap access: Yes