By Suzanne Parker
The not quite three-month-old Astor Room in Astoria has a lot going for it. It occupies the site of the original commissary of the studio built by Adolph Zuckor in 1920 which became Paramount Pictures. The building is now home to Kaufman Astoria Studios, where films and TV shows are still being made.
Its website invites patrons to “take a step back in time in our new restaurant that celebrates the glory of a bygone era in American and cinematic history. The Astor Room is our contemporary interpretation of the American supper club.”
But which bygone era is it? The space is at the bottom of an Art Nouveau-wallpapered flight of stairs with a video screen showing silent film stars. The room itself, aside from a scattering of film photos, looks like it harkens back to the glory days of Beefsteak Charlie’s, with half-height dark paneling and a brass rail dividing the bar from the dining area. More Seventies faux-Victorian than Jazz Age or film noir. The most atmospheric aspect of the experience was the live pianist playing classic tunes.
As much emphasis is placed on imbibing as dining here, and to that end, they employ a skilled mixologist who can whip up a cocktail with a movie industry-themed name or whatever you ask for. Their wine list is thoughtfully chosen, emphasizing domestic wines and hitting all price points, with some bargains to be had. Plenty of interesting brews, too.
The retro dinner menu is more Old American than New American. It channels fine dining experiences of the ’50s and ’60s. The table is laid with a wickedly cheesy soft roll and a more restrained platter of fennel sticks, radishes and olives. An amuse bouche of Chinese ceramic spoons filled with a rich puree of celery root topped with sun dried tomato confit lent a more contemporary note to the early arrivals.
Oysters Rockefeller were served over spinach with a pronounced cheddar flavor to the sauce and hardly a hint of Pernod — not quite the classic, but flavorful nonetheless. Crispy fried calamari was light and delicate and offset nicely by the charred tomato sauce. Finnan haddie was luxuriant and smoky in a garlic velouté with pancetta. The crab cake, served with Old Bay aioli, was what crab cakes used to be like before chefs got so fusiony with their crab cake accompaniments.
Sadly, even though we arrived for a 7 p.m. reservation, two of our first entrée choices were sold out. We had hoped to try their Thursday special, duck à l’orange, and their buttermilk fried chicken, but no dice.
We instead chose the Heritage Chicken Pot Pie. The pastry was flaky, the contents were chunky and plentiful, but the flavor of the sauce called to mind a small screen black and white TV. The chef must have been channeling Swanson’s—not a bad thing if you’re looking for nostalgia.
The double-cut Coca-Cola pork chop was tough, dry and not particularly caramelized. Salt-baked branzino with braised fennel, orange and golden grapes was a savory-sweet version of Veronique. Short rib stroganoff was nicely caramelized on the outside and rosy yet falling-apart tender internally. Truffled crème fraiche is served alongside, so that your conscience can be your guide to the level of richness — a nice touch.
All the desserts here are winners. You can’t go wrong with any of them. The vanilla gelato that tops several of them is memorable for its intense vanilla flavor. The crepes suzette, filled with vanilla custard and topped with sautéed oranges and Grand Marnier, are a delicious time machine.
When it comes to service, like they say in the industry, they’ve got to get their act together. The pacing is uneven, and they make a lot of mistakes on orders. Hopefully they’re on an upward curve, and things will only get better.
The Bottom Line
Its fun to give your taste buds a blast from the past. That the Astor Room is planning to be a music venue as well as an eatery makes it even more fun. Try a little nostalgia that melts in your mouth.
The Astor Room
34-12 36th St.
Astoria, NY 11106
Price Range: Apps: $7-$15, mains: $18-$38
Cuisine: Old American
Setting: Retro, upscale
Service: Friendly, accommodating, but uneven.
Hours: Lunch, dinner & cocktails Tues.—Fri., brunch, dinner, cocktails Sat.—Sun.
Alcohol: full bar.
Children: Older & well behaved.
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Entry by stairs to lower level.