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Castel’ Mare: Whitestone dining fortress stands strong

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Castel’ Mare

21-64 Utopia Parkway

Whitestone

352-6738

There’s a town on the Northern coast of Sicily called Castel’ Mare and that’s the name that the Farruggio family chose for its new restaurant. Giovanni is executive chef, brother Salvatore is host and mother Vincenza is in the kitchen, too.

For 12 years the Farruggios owned Mezza Luna on Northern Boulevard in Flushing and opened in Whitestone when they lost their lease.

Tiny white lights glisten outside Castel’ Mare and inside is a study in white with mirror-rimmed pictures of Italian scenes on the wall. There are two rooms, the larger with a bar seating 50 and a smaller adjoining room seating 30. Fine Northern and Southern Italian cuisine is served as our Saturday night dinner will attest.

My guest began with an appetizer of baked clams oreganata and was pleased with six simply served on a white plate. I was intrigued by a spinach soup described as “toasted bread with melted mozzarella.” Think French onion soup. This is an Italian spinach soup. Grandma Farruggio used to make it by adding sautéed fresh spinach and squares of half-inch-thick focaccia to homemade chicken broth, then topping it with a hefty layer of mozzarella which melted on the hot broth. It is wonderful. I bypassed the croutons but once I sampled one, I was smitten and downed every broth-saturated crumb.

Our entrees were exceptionally elegant. My guest complimented the waiter repeatedly. She was particularly enamored by the lobster fra diavolo. An entire lobster was set before her on a bed of linguini with marinara sauce. The lobster was tender. (She knows her lobsters from summering on the North Fork.) She parted the meat from the shell, added it to the marinara linguini and kept raving.

I was equally captivated. Since I was looking for something light, I had quail. Three tiny quails, butterflied, marinated, then braised were nestled atop a bed of mixed salad greens. A dish of linguini with garlic and oil was my choice for a side. Again, elegant eating.

Based on the success of the pasta served at Mezza Luna, Castel’ Mare had to feature 22 sauces and they let you choose the pasta to go with it (spaghetti, ziti, linguini, cappellini, fettuccini, rigatoni, penne or fussilli — and to think we once knew only spaghetti and elbow macaroni). In addition there are “Pasta di Casa” — five of them (cheese ravioli in tomato sauce; lasagna — with or without meat; stuffed shells in tomato sauce; cheese tortellini in tomato sauce and gnocchi in tomato sauce).

Desserts ran the gamut from homemade tiramisu to cheesecake to tartufo with peach Melba and chocolate mousse added. My dining companion opted for the mousse. I went for tartufo, a superior version with a ball of vanilla coated with a half inch of chocolate ice cream beneath a chocolate shell. Cut into quarters, arranged around a mound of whipped cream and a cherry, the black and white ice cream looked delicious and was.

Espresso is good here, as is the cappuccino. We sat and talked and talked contentedly, which can be another indication of fine cuisine.

Note that at Castel’ Mare, specialties are indicated on the menu with an asterisk. Here are a few examples: Chicken portobello (portobello mushrooms sautéed with diced tomato, garlic and Basalmic vinaigrette); stuffed sole à la Santa Maria (stuffed with mushrooms, spinach and mozzarella in a plump tomato sauce); zuppa di pesce (sautéed clams, mussels, shrimp and calamari in a fra diavolo sauce — hot or mild — served over a bed of linguini); and eggplant rolatini (stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, prosciutto, smothered in tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese).

I can be enthusiastic about the service as well as the cuisine. There is ample wait staff and they are all very solicitous. You’ll be in good hands at Castel’ Mare.

The Bottom Line

The Farruggio family owned Mezza Luna on Northern for 12 years. They now opened Castel’ Mare on Utopia Parkway. Fine Northern and Southern Italian cuisine. Solicitous wait staff.

Chef’s Choice

Clams or Mussels (fra diavolo or garlic sauce)...$9

Cold Antipasto (salami, provolone, prosciutto & fresh mozzarella)...$9

Chicken Milanese (pan-fried & topped with chopped arugula, onions, tomato & fresh mozzarella)...$13.99

Veal à la Castel’ Mare (topped with sautéed spinach & strips of melted provolone)...$15.99

Filet of sole à la Lilliana (topped with sautéed shrimp & asparagus in a garlic sauce)...$17.99

Pasta à la Pescatore (sautéed calamari, crabmeat, shrimp & scallops in a white cream sauce)...$12.99

Pasta Della Luna (sautéed chicken, shrimp and mushrooms in a creamy garlic sauce)...$11.99

Peach Melba...$6

Homemade Tiramisu...$6

Cuisine: Northern & Southern Italian

Setting: White on white

Service: Solicitous

Hours: Closed Mon. D 6 days (4pm, Sun 12pm)

Reservations: Yes

Parking: Lot (rear)

Location: S of Cross Island Pkwy

Dress: Casual

Credit cards: All major

Children: Accommodate

Takeout: Yes

Off-premise catering: Yes

Private parties: To 80 (50 & 30)

Smoking: None

Noise level: Fri & Sat night, low

Handicap access: Yes

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