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La Locanda del Buongustaio: New Italian restaurant has Manhattan style with Queens appeal

LA LOCANDA

DEL BUONGUSTAIO

28-21 Astoria Blvd., Astoria

726-7663 Fax: 718 726-6875

By Carol Brock

At 6 p.m. when the day cools and the traffic slows, they place two huge orange umbrellas in front of La Locanda del Buongustaio and set up five tables.

It’s a new Greenwich Village-like Italian restaurant without over-the-river prices. You can count seating for 36 inside in the square room with terra cotta floor, some bricks and ocher walls. Parchment shades overhead add a glow and tea lights on the tables augment it. Outdoors, tiny copper lanterns hold the illumination.

But it’s not for looks but for food that you go to La Locanda del Buongustaio. A reader wrote of her find and wanted me to try it and spread the word that “Astoria has great eateries just like our neighbors across the river.” She works there but has lived in Astoria for a year.

Personable, energetic, Piero Potenza is the owner who studied his craft in Italy, then practiced in Sardinia. His chef, from Ecuador, spent years in a Manhattan Italian restaurant which Piero managed.

The napkin rolled with knife and fork is fabric. And the bread basket holds soft, thin slices of delicious focaccia — everything is homemade except the moist, crusty Italian loaf that's also offered.

The meal is off to a good start. The chef behind the food counter is preparing my mussels, sauteed in a bit of white wine with plenty of diced fresh tomato and fresh basil. It’s heaped in a copper pan with handles, set on a large white plate, a catch-all for the shells. It is superb, just a touch different from other versions. All the pastas are handmade. The penne-shaped pasta are in a barely cooked, fresh tomato sauce tingling with spice. The grated cheese offered is superior.

There is a fish and pasta special that is not to be missed, made in parchment paper and put in the oven to bake. It’s a dish from Piero’s home town near Lake Maggiore and one which you are not likely to find elsewhere.

Grilled lamb chop the menu read, served with grilled polenta and Sicilian caponato. Since I’m a polenta affectionado, that was for me, especially since it was accompanied by an eggplant stewed with tomato. For the record, there were four lamb chops cooked as requested "on the rare side." For those interested in a salad, a spinach, endive, goat cheese, salad is served with balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing. And there’s a chopped green salad with cucumber, tomato, red onion, croutons and lemon and oil dressing.

The dolci are a joy. Yes, there is classic tiramisu and apple tart with vanilla ice cream but there is also panna cotta. The Italian-cooked cream with fruit (ours was grape), creme brulee and a cheese platter with fruit. But what is not to be missed, is the hot chocolate scuffle served with white chocolate ice cream. Think chocolate pop-over filled with molten chocolate. Heavenly. And believe it or not, it can be a take-out item.

Cappuccino here is like no other. Served in a traditional coffee cup, the froth milk is about two inches thick. A teaspoon barely cuts through it. The coffee is beneath this, robust, dark, coffee. Coffee and a souffle were on the house. “You are here for the first time and this is to say welcome.” Nice gesture.

Be aware that it’s a cash-only situation. Beer and wine are served. And those tall narrow baskets on the side board that you’ve been wondering about, are placed on each table at meal’s end for tips. Like the lamp shades on the ceiling, it is a Piero creation. He found them, liked them, bought them and found a creative use.

P.S. La Locanda del Buongustaio (La Locanda for short) translates to “a place for people with good taste.”

And so it is.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Small Greenwich village type Italian restaurant. Two huge umbrellas out front when sun goes down for outdoor dining — five tables. Excellent Italian cuisine at attractive prices. Pleasant service.

CHEF’S CHOICE

Sauteed Mussels ...$7.00

Homemade Veal Ravioli (served with mixed mushroom, prosciutto and cream sauce)...$13.00

Veal Scallopine topped with Sage and Prosciutto (served with spinach and mashed potato)...$15.00

Pesce del Girno (fish of the day)...Market price

Tiramisu de Buongustaio (classic tiramisu)..$5..00

Chocolate Souffle (served hot with white chocolate ice cream)...$6.00

Cuisine: Italian

Setting: Nicely lit

Hours: L & D 6 days. Brunch fall to spring . Closed Mondays

Dress: Casual

Credit cards: None — cash only.

Children: Accommodate

Private parties: To 40

Take out: Yes & deliver

Off premise catering: Yes

Smoking: None

Noise: Moderate

Handicap access: Yes

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