By Suzanne Parker
On an obscure corner in Glendale there is a magnetic location for restaurant startups. About 13 years ago, a corner deli straddling residential and commercial zones was transformed into a tiny traditional Italian restaurant called La Tavernetta. It became a destination for Italian food lovers in-the-know until it departed for greener pastures in Forest Hills.
La Tavernetta was replaced by Tazzina, an eatery with a self-proclaimed Nuevo Italian menu, and a more upscale look and feel. After developing its own following, Tazzina followed in its predecessor’s footsteps, migrating to Forest Hills.
Maspeth native Vinny Arcadi is the latest chef/owner to occupy this site with his venture Room 55. The name is a nod to his Culinary Institute of America graduation date, May 5, 2000. He is also an alumnus of the cooking show “Hell’s Kitchen.”
Although snug in the extreme, Arcadi has made the space handsome and welcoming. The only thing lacking is sheer curtains to diffuse the nighttime glare from the self-storage facility across the street. If you are seated in its path, it hits you with tanning salon intensity.
The restaurant’s website proclaims that they offer “Modern American Cuisine featuring Quality Prime Meats, Amish Pork and Poultry, and super fresh fish.” They serve dinner six nights a week as well as Italian-style prix fixe Sunday dinner. With their recently acquired wine and beer license, they have begun offering a nice selection of bottles and holding special wine pairing events.
We didn’t quite grasp the menu’s distinction between “Appetizers” and “Small Plates.” It seemed like either one could serve either purpose, so we mixed and matched. We paired Arcadi’s signature prime dry-aged filet with Grandpa Tony’s escarole salad. The steak was described parenthetically as “5 oz” with a $19/38 price tag. So how much does the $38 version weigh? No clue was given nor did it reappear under entrées. Never mind all that. The beef was sublime. It came in lush thick slices with a cabernet reduction and Roquefort aioli. Never mind a fork, you could cut it with a sharp stare. The escarole salad, fresh and piquant, was a nice antidote to one too many Caesars. The combination made for a sumptuous starter for two, or could just as easily been a satisfying meal for one.
Pan-seared duck breast, another signature, didn’t disappoint, although they could’ve lightened up on the salt. The abundant slices of well-seared rosy meat were sweetly enhanced with a brandied cranberry glaze. Squash risotto and sautéed baby spinach were perfect companions.
Monkfish pot pie demonstrated Arcadi’s inventiveness along with his skill. Monkfish and root vegetables are sandwiched between layers of puff pastry in an earthy sauce. This dish appeared to be a new introduction to the menu, and seems destined to become another menu mainstay.
Desserts here are house made, and for the indecisive (or greedy) can be ordered in flights of three. You can’t go wrong with any of them. When we kvelled about the desserts, our waitress confided that if you arrive at the restaurant early in the morning, their pastry chef serves breakfast coffee and pastries.
The Bottom Line
Is there magic in the air at the corner of 88th Street and 75th Avenue, or just delicious cooking smells? Whatever it is, it seems to conjure restaurant success. Hurry over to Room 55 before they, too, heed the siren song of more spacious quarters.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
75-01 88th St.
Price Range: Appetizers: $8—19; Entrees: $18—27; Sunday Prix Fixe: $35
Cuisine: New American
Setting: Small, pleasant décor.
Hours: Monday, Wednesday—Saturday Dinner from 5 p.m. Sunday Prix fixe from 2 p.m. Closed Tuesdays.
Alcohol: Wine & Beer
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Acceptable.
Handicap accessible: Yes