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Cavo: Sample Greek delights in Astoria

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CAVO

42-18 31st Avenue

Astoria

It's a great place, the trendiest in Astoria, make that “the trendiest place in Queens.” Cavo is a cafe lounge and Winter Garden in the European tradition. There’s a cafe lounge as you enter. In the huge Winter Garden, centered with roof-high bamboo and a swag of sheer drapery on either side, the seating is sofas, lounge chairs and coffee tables. When friends join friends, and that’s the pattern, a wooden stool is added.

At one end, there’s a 30- foot bar. The atmosphere, a blend of European with a dash of American house party, is the draw. Cavo’s cafe and lounge (and Cavo is Greek for cave) opened three years ago with a cafe lounge. Where once there were garages and open space in the rear, they added an open air Winter Garden. Last October they capped it with a dome, which allows the sunlight to enter at lunch and during Saturday and Sunday brunch. Come summer, it’s removed. The atmosphere maybe the draw, but we found the food exciting, too. The thrust is European, Mediterranean to be exact. And the wait staff is European with Bulgarians, Russians, Roumanians, Greeks and Italians.

Although on Saturday and Sunday the chic time to arrive, is 11 p.m., during the week people start dropping in after work for a light supper. We came on a Saturday night at 8p.m.

“Cavo’s Incredible Drink Menu” deserves listing: Jumbo chocolate martinis, sangria with fresh fruit, Mediteranneo, Jack Daniels Lemonade, South Hampton iced tea, Call a Cab, Midori margarita, caipirnha, mojito (the Cuban rum number), razzmatazz, berry lemonade, mango supreme, fruit flavored martinis (seven in all) and fifteen frozen drinks (with or without cream).

Now, I really should list all the appetizers, to “wow” you, too. They run the gamut from egg lemon soup to crab cakes. We were enthusiastic about our choices. My dining companion had the Cavo special of paper-thin chips of eggplant and zucchini with tzatziki, the traditional yogurt/cucumber dip. And I do mean paper-thin, actually potato chip thin, crisp, delicious and heaped higher than an elephant’s eye. I went with Greek meatballs, marble-sized ones, accompanied with a napkin holding pita bread triangles. This was pita different than the usual - thinner, moister, lighter - which proved very complimentary. We split an arrugala salad with fresh greens, and toasted walnuts with a honey champagne vinaigrette - a great combo.

Cavo’s entrees favor pastas. And the pasta is homemade: Penne ala vodka, linguini Alfredo, tortellini, spinach fettucini, fettucini salmon. My dining companion chose the chef’s signature dish, shellfish ceviche. Saragias is executive chef, and he’s been involved in restaurants around Manhattan for 20 years including at the Plaza, Montrache and Bayards.

Executive chef Sargias' non-traditional interpretation of ceviche is quite remarkable. It's a stunning double-decker affair. A gigantic martini glass sits in the center of a plate of warm mussels. What’s upstairs? Not bite sized bits of fish, but whole shrimp, slabs of lobster, whole scallops and baby squid. It’s been marinated in a lemon/lime sauce and the acid “cooks” the seafood. It is so spectacular. (But we’d like crusty bread or some thing as a go-along.) The ceviche was so loaded with lobster, that I wasn’t too surprised to be informed that the lobster orzo was “out.” So I had the skewers of chicken and red peppers-five of them fanned out atop pita triangles. I had been eyeing them at another table. It turned out to be a case of “as good as they looked.”

Desserts included yogurt with honey and walnuts, chocolate peanut butter cake and, best of all, crepes filled with bananas, or strawberries then topped with walnuts and chocolate sauce. The crepes were delicious and I thumbs-upped the chocolate peanut butter mousse-like cake that went nicely with coffee. Brunch offerings deserve mentioning: There's eggs Florentine as well as eggs Benedict. There are also great omelets: feta and tomato, eggplant and zucchini, Canadian bacon and spinach.

I must try lunch and brunch in the sun-filled Winter Garden. And you’re sure to find me in the open sky Winter Garden in summer. Cavo’s European cafe lounge concept is for me any time of day-or year.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Exciting cafe/lounge and Winter Garden with lounge chairs, sofas and cocktail tables. Mediterranean cuisine. European wait staff. A very trendy place.

CHEF'S CHOICE

House Spreads (choice of three with pita bread: hummus, roasted red pepper feta, eggplant caviar, taramosalata, tzatziki & sundried tomato)...$8

Saganaki Flambe (fried cheese with fresh herbs and cognac)...$7

Fried Calamari (with tomato basil sauce, lemon & fresh herbs)...$9

Mussels (sauteed Prince Edward Island mussels with lemon white wine butter sauce)...$8

Filet Mignon (seared filet medallions with mashed potatoes & sauteed green beans)...$19

Shellfish Ceviche (chef's signature dish, lobster, shrimp, squid, scallops “cooked” in spicy lemon sauce)...$15

Lobster Ravioli (with tomato basil cream sauce)...S12

Lobster Orzo (grilled vegetables, lobster, fresh herbs with butter sauce)...$10

Avocado Shrimp Salad (mesculin greens, capers & basalmic vinegar)...$11

Seared Tuna Salad (with greens, capers & basalmic vinegar)...$12

Cuisine: Mediterranean

Setting: Winter Garden with lounge chairs, sofas & cocktail tables.

Service: European

Hours: L (Mon-Fri) & D (late nights) 7 days. Brunch Sat & Sun

Reservations: Yes

Parking: Valet after 5:30

Location: Two blocks off Steinway

Dress: Neat casual

Credit ccards: Visa, MC, American Express

Takeout: No

Off premise catering: Yes

Children: Until 10 pm Thurs, Fri, Sat

Private parties: 20 to 200

Noise level: High. Low, L & Br

Handicap acess: Yes

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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