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Ponticello: Astoria ristorante rivals Manhattan’s best

PONTICELLO

46-11 Broadway, Astoria

278-4514

It was nice when a neighbor in Queens came to our table at Ponticello. He was surprised at my choice of appetizer, a special of crab stuffed avocado.

When all America seems to be dining out Italian, I applaud Ponticello for offering a few contemporary American choices like blooming onion and smoked salmon. And the avocado was perfectly ripened and the crab salad interior super. My dining companion (who noted he had had excellent smoked salmon in Italian restaurants) ordered spaghetti carbonara.

Our neighbor, himself a Croatian, enthused over the gnocchi his wife had had as an appetizer. "Just like, and almost as good as, my mother's," he said. He loved the cold octopus salad, the rings and the tendrils.

He explained that his mother, when cooking octopus, always put a cork (yes, a cork) into the boiling water into which she dipped the octopus so it didn't get chewy. I never found out Ponticello's method, but it wasn't chewy.

The neighbor raved about the osso bucco served with tiny gnocchi. My dining companion was slightly less enthusiastic about his. I remained neutral after my sampling. I wished I could have tried the lamb (shank) osse bucco, too. My choice was rabbit (three tender white legs) with polenta cut in fingers and a fine brown sauce.

Let's back up a bit. A small plate with slices of salami and excellent Parmagiano were presented with drinks and then came one, long, slim, green chili pepper reposing in an herb sauce. It was slightly on the hot side when you dipped a corner of their good Italian bread in it, but it was delicious and a most interesting, new-to-me tidbit.

The room was crowded. Luigi and Joe have had this restorante since May 2, 1982 (very few restauranteurs recall the exact year, fewer still the exact date). It has a following with diners coming from Manhattan as well as Queens. And people from Queens going there when they come back from Manhattan.

The room is low-key with a small bar as you enter; I happened to be seated close to the kitchen, facing it (to see what was going on.) And I noted it was well run. A chef from Ecuador prepares Ponticello's Northern Italian fare.

The desserts were many. There's a cart on the way in. Canollis here have a wonderful filling, chock full of minced candled fruit. The Napoleon is good-looking, the chocolate mousse cake has a band of chocolate around the side. On request, they'll prepare strawberries with zabaglione. The tiramisu is homemade and there is the bacci ball tartuffo.

The neighbor returned to our table after his meal to mention that he noted other Croatian favorites: calve's liver Venezziana ("Croatians traded with Venice, hence it became part of their repertoire," he told us). I have always enthused over liver prepared that way - cut into strips and sauteed with onions, vinegar and white wine. Trippa paesana has a light bread sauce (and doesn't that sound good?) and is served with polenta, too.

Tripe prepared any way is for me. But I don't get too excited about carrots. (Grandmother's "They're good for your eyes" never worked.)

For me the delight of the evening was having Luigi come to the table several times. He was working the room every minute.

A true restaurateur.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Popular Northern Italian restorante. Low-key setting. Good service. Some Croatian specialties. A few contemporary American items.

CHEF'S CHOICE

Eggplant Rolletini..$7.50

Pasta Fagoli...$7

Rigatoni ala Vodka...$14

Linguini w/ Baby Clams...$14.95

Red Snapper Marciata...$23

Veal Ponticello...$18.50

Osso Bucco w/ Rice...$21

Breast of Chicken Portebello, $16.95

Rack of Lamb Roasted...$22

Tira MiSu...$4.25

Strawberries with Zabaglione...$5.50

Food: Northern Italian

Setting: Low-Key

Service: Good

Reservations: Yes

Parking: Valet

Location: Between 46th & 47th on

Broadway

Dress: Casual

Credit cards: All major

Private parties: To 30. Sat./Sun. to 50-60

Children: Special menu

Smoking: Bar

Noise: Moderate

Handicapped accessible: Yes

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