20-01 Steinway St., Astoria
To add to your Italian vocabulary: La Sirena means "The Mermaid." And you'll find a lovely painting of one hanging in La Sirena Restaurant in Astoria.
Usually, when you ask the chef/manager/owner of a restaurant on Steinway Street, you don't expect "seven years as manager of the Holiday Inn in Paris" to be his credentials. But that's the way it is with Antonio of La Sirena, who hails from the south of Italy by the Adriatic Sea.
Antonio likes Astoria because "it's growing up" and has a solid base of "lots of Italians and lots of Greeks." The Parisian connection explains things like the white umbrellas over white-clothed tables outside with twinkling lights strung on a shade tree.
And inside, the wait staff has the whitest, crispest attire to match the beautifully starched and ironed cloths.
My dining companion for the evening was struck by the window treatment on the street side. I was captivated by the window on the other side, looking out to the very green gardens in the backyards which make Astoria a draw for chefs and waiters working in New York. Other noteworthy items are the see-through kitchen that you pass as you walk from the bar up front to the dining room in the rear with a row of white balusters separating the two. There is still Paris in Antonio's soul. He takes pride in La Sirena's romantic Saturday night dinners with Italian music and a live singer.
We arrived on a Thursday with a maitre d' in black tie. Our drinks were served with small dish of small black calmatti olives which have the same effect on me as cashew or macadamia nuts - utterly irresistible.
For appetizers I debated the carpaccio di manzo - thin slices of filet mignon over arugula and grana cheese with virgin olive oil, or the rollatini di melanzane - eggplant stuffed with prosciutto, ricotta cheese and herbs. The rollatini, my choice, was superbly creamy. Her choice, the seafood salad of calamari, octopus, scungilli and shrimp was a very delicious, generous serving. She opted to doggybag and we contemplated that it would be great tossed with sea-shell shaped pasta as a luncheon salad.
Our young waitress recited the specials and my guest selected vitella alla capricciosa, lightly breaded veal chop topped with arugula, chopped tomato, garlic and basil in a light basalmic vinaigrette. It was a large chop, well pounded with a coating of crumbs making it look even larger. The asparagus were the thin ones, the potato was pan-browned. Since I was weight-conscious that evening, I went for the rack of lamb. I hate to say it, but what I received were four small lamb chops brown on both sides albeit rare inside. I was looking forward to the presentation of a rack.
Our waitress had peaked our interest from the very beginning. We wondered: Russian? Polish? No. She was Hungarian and only on the job three days.
Still thinking summer and swimming, I had the coconut sherbet. A divine, rather creamy sherbet served in a coconut shell. I loved it. She had an item that was described as profiterole but tasted more like doughnut batter deep-fried and puffed, then filled and served with sauce. The coffee was not memorable.
Now as I peruse the takeout menu, I regret not having had Insalata La Sirena with Romaine, toasted almonds, fresh oranges, radicchio, gorgonzola cheese and basil vinaigrette. Pappadella ortolana with porcini mushrooms and peas in cognac sauce sounds luscious. And there was mozzarella in carrozza not often seen on today's menus but so very good, especially when served with a lemon wedge.
Summertime is a good time for mermaids, and for garden-patch viewing and dining under a white umbrella outdoors or at an ultra-starched white clothed table indoors.
So, summertime is a good time for La Sirena - and as Antonio would say, for a romantic Saturday night dinner.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Italian cuisine with a bit of Parisian flair added to the setting. Outdoor dining on starched white cloths. A singer and Italian music at night.
Hot Antipasto-for two-(baked clams, garlic shrimp, spiedino Romano, roasted peppers and eggplant rollatini)...$18.95
Carpaccio di Manzo (thin slices filet mignon over arugula & grana cheese with virgin olive oi1)...$9.50
Papardella Ortolana (with porcini mushrooms & peas in cognac sauce)...$12.95
Dentice alla Livornese or Piccata (filet of snapper)...$18.95
Medallions of Beef (with Bordelaise sauce)...$21.95
Veaitelllao Valdostana (veal stuffed with prosciutto fontina & mushrooms in Marsala wine sauce)...$32.95 Tiramisu...$6.00
Cuisine: Italian Setting: Crisply starched, indoors & out
Service: Also crisply starched
Hours: D 6 days. Closed Sun. L Mon. to Fri. Parking: Lot opposite
Location: Steinway St or Astoria Blvd. exit of Grand Central
Dress: Neat casual
Credit cards: All major (except Discover)
Private parties. To 70 upstairs
©2001 Community News Group
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