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Punta Dura: Astoria Italian eatery keeps growing

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PUNTA DURA

41-15 34th Ave.,

Astoria

721-2137

Punta Dura is an island near the city of Zadar, which is now Croatian. Punta Dura is a restaurant off of Northern Boulevard in Astoria. It's a first, for Joseph Radovic, chef owner. Opened in 1990, it started off as a small one. But in 1997 and '98 it was enlarged. Now catering facilities stretch to the corner.

Invite 300 guests, if you'd like. You get the picture - impressive before you even open the pine-windowed door.

I knew the food would be special. An acquaintance was there on his birthday and all I've heard since, from him and his wife and everyone at his office, was raves. If I wasn't prepared for the size, I certainly wasn't prepared for the elegance.

Step inside and you're impressed again. Immediately, you're part of it. To the right is a see-through bar backed by a cozy, carpeted dining spot. On the left is an intimate nook with marble-topped cocktail tables.

Heads up and you'll find a bandstand with a baby grand. There's dinner and dancing on the marble-tiled floor, not merely Friday and Saturday but nightly (from 7 to 11 weekdays and 9:30 to 3 a.m. weekends).

Walk on into the spacious dining area with imposing green "marble," painted Venetian stucco columns. Dark wood graces the area below the hand rail that circles the room and textured green wallpaper is featured above. There are three white roses on each table and tapestry-covered chairs, charming small paintings, under silk-shaded scones. Art deco, like chandeliers, hang overhead. Once we were seated, the server quipped, "Bottled or Giuliani's water?" and handed us the menu.

The usual lengthy, hard-to-absorb listing of specials followed. My dining companion chose veal, requesting it "medium." The plump veal chop looked luscious on the plate as it was placed before her. Whole green beans flanked it. They were coated with smashed potato with bits of potato as well. The effect is velvety.

The handsome chop came mounded with sauteed, sliced portobello mushrooms exceptionally well- seasoned. Here was a moist, marvelous veal chop far superior to any you'd applaud in a steakhouse.

I gravitated to seafood since seafood is accented in the cuisine of Punta Dura, the island and Punta Dura, the restaurant. Polenta with stewed fish of the day sounded tempting. (Adriatic and Dalmatian specialties included it along with calamari sauteed in olive oil and fresh garlic and stewed veal tripe with potatoes.)

Polenta is in fashion but not on menus often enough. At Punta Dura it's sliced and sauteed to accompany the filet bathed in a fresh tomato melange peppered with whole fresh garlic cloves, meltingly delicious. I could make a meal of the garlic sauce alone.

For dining excitement and delectability, I nominate Punta Dura's antipasti pulpo Adriatico, an octopus, potato and onion salad, which made me wonder, "Why haven't I had this before?" The thinly sliced octopus combo would make a great luncheon main dish come summer. It's a biggie for an appetizer. Maybe you can hold back. I couldn't.

The house salad is mesculin but not distinctive enough to bear the mixed green salad "Punta Dura" label.

The dessert plate offerings, presented in thin slices resting on their side, are beguiling. Small servings con you into conjecturing, "Can't be too many calories." The hazelnut torte was delicious.

But the plate of fresh strawberries was glorious. Picture this: a ring of berries, hulls removed, arranged upright in a circle around the edge. In the center, sliced berries. As a garnish, four rosettes of crea

The dinner-dancing keyboard music and vocalizing were tops - the servers most willing to please.

Here are other tempters on the menu, in case you're not sold already: fish minestrone with fresh vegetables and chunks of fish; clams or oysters any style; Italian ham and melted mozzarella on toasted bread, crostino di prosuto. Pastas: diced chicken, fennel and rosemary; fresh tomato, basil and mozzarella; sun-dried tomatoes in a spicy tomato sauce; thin-sliced lamb sauteed with barolo wine and brandy.

No wonder Punta Dura, which started small, has grown.

CHEF'S CHOICE

Oyster's Royale (baked oysters with roasted peppers and smoked salmon and panceta in a champagne sauce)...$9.75

Mozzarella Cardinal (proscuitto, roasted peppers and buffalo mozzarella)...$8.75

Homemade Black Linguini (with vongolate, fresh tomato in a white clam sauce garnished with broccoli)... $16.75

Rabbit Hunter-Style (served with polenta)...$18.75

Food: Fine Italian cuisine

Setting: Supper club

Service: Very good

Hours: Closed Monday. Lunch, Tuesday to Friday, Dinner, six days

Reservations: Yes

Parking: Street

Location: Between 41st and 42nd Street

Dress: Casual

Credit cards: All major

Children: Accommodated

Music & dancing: Nightly

Takeout: Yes

Smoking: Section

Noise level: Combo

Handicap access: Yes

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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