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Il Fresco: Third time’s a charm at Bayside Italian eatery

Il Fresco

194-01 Northern Blvd. Bayside

225-0001

Sept. 5 was not the best of times to open a restaurant. But much to the surprise of the owner and Steve, the manager, things went surprisingly well for Il Fresco after Sept. 11. And things are still doing well.

Il Fresco has dramatic space (as did the predecessors at the corner of Northern and 194th). That alone would distinguish it from other restaurants in the borough. It is two story, cathedral-like space. And in the rear there’s mezzanine seating. The added bonus—two stories does a lot to keep the sound level moderate on a Saturday night.

Like its business card (sleek black with “Il Fresco” slashed across in gold), Il Fresco has a clean-cut look about it with stone-like walls, dark wood and a good looking bar. Candles glow fetchingly on the stairway and bar. Wine bottles, on their sides, bottoms out, are stacked high behind the bar and form a hedge along the first floor rear. Upstairs, the stacking goes from floor to ceiling in the rear. In case you're curious, all are filled with wine ready to be sold and drunk. But, whose going to pull the first one out?

Loft seating is cozy and intimate. Some tables view the goings on below and some monitor the waiters as they trot up and down at an amazing clip. That’s why I always ponder when asked, “Where would you like to be seated?” (This is the third Italian eatery I've review at this location.) Upstairs? Downstairs? Both have pluses. Steve makes it a point to visit both upstairs and downstairs for a tableside chat.

Outside, a string of evergreens are draped with tiny lights, and in warm weather there’ll be al fresco dining with music piped out.

We “lofted,” settling down at table for three. The waiter proceeded to announce, ever so dramatically, the specialties as we dipped tidbits of Italian bread into the oil from a cruet at our table.

Our appetizers pleased: Carpaccio looked scrumptious with ultra-thin slices of rare beef and ultra-thin slices of cheese arranged alternatingly on a hill of greens. Meanwhile, dining companion number two was happily devouring stuffed clams with oregano. Could it be that homemade bread crumbs made such a difference? And I had pasta.

Now for the main course. Stuffed lobster sounded droolable, especially since the stuffing was clams, sun-dried tomatoes and more of those fresh homemade bread crumbs. My sauce was white wine. Sometimes it’s lemon. Sometimes it’s cognac and cream (doesn’t that sound grand?). It looked tempting, too and was easily eatable. A half lobster had its claw removed and arranged on top, and the stuffed half tail was ever so consumable and so satisfying that I offered my claw to dining companion number one, who had lobster ravioli in a fab sauce.

Dining companion number two was intrigued by a trio entree of chicken, sausage and beef. He exclaimed delightedly when the plate arrived, “It’s like having three meals because there are three accompaniments—onions for chicken, potatoes for beef and spinach for sausage.”

I smiled when the table next to us ordered dessert. Bongo bongo was still on the menu. It had been there since the very first of the Italian restaurants at the location. I must confess, we fell under the bongo bongo spell and we ordered it—the best rendition. The cream puff was larger and stuffed fuller with ice cream.

That chocolate sauce was to die for. The tiramisu aficionado had yet another version with a gingerbread-like layering of crumbled cookies and cake crumbs. I was delighted with my white chocolate mousse parfait in an ample parfait glass layered with chopped, fresh strawberries. (Home pastry chefs take note, chopping makes the berries taste extra flavorful, and especially juicy.) And desserts are garnished with a strawberry rose. Remember when every holiday the meal had a celery, olives and radish rose relish tray? Well, turn a large berry upside down and make a radish rose-it’s gorgeous!

PS: I must share our table talk. We began conjecturing: “Would it be better to call a doggy bag a ‘woof woof’ or a ‘bow wow,” and so forth. In the end we concluded, just say “Wrap it, please.”

The original chef is back. They’ve changed the whole menu and added some traditional dishes. Steve meets and greets tables upstairs and downstairs. The waiters are nice. That's what it takes to succeed post Sept. 5 and it all adds up to the formula for succeeding since Sept. 11.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Dramatic cathedral like space plus loft dining. Fine Italian food. Good service. Outdoor dining "On the Boulevard".

CHEF'S CHOICE

Cuisine: Italian

Setting: Cathedral like. Wine bottle design

Service: Very good

Hours: L Tues-Fri. D six days. Closed Mon

Reservations: Yes

Parking: Street

Location: W of Clearview Expy

Credit cards: All major

Dress: Casual

Children: Accommodated

Private parties: 60 to 110. Two rooms

Takeout: Yes

Off premise catering: Absolutely

Smoking: Bar

Noise level: Moderate. (High ceiling)

Outdoor dining: In season.

Background music

Handicap access: Yes

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