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Angie’s Kitchen: There is an angel in the kitchen in Astoria

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You used to be able to find examples in the Village and Soho before everything became soo expensive, but you can still find them in artsy Brooklyn neighborhoods and around universities. They combine quirky charm with kitchen talent. No pretense, no gimmicks. Just reasonably priced good food, an eye for creative design, and art on the walls. Angie's is a spacious, colorful place with brightly painted walls, a funky mural of giant bottles and glasses behind the bar and tables on raised platform to the side and rear of the restaurant separated from the center by gleaming brass rails. A central two-sided fireplace sets a cozily intimate mood. Bright abstract paintings and diaphanous curtains complete the picture.Chef/owner Angel Hernandez is a kitchen veteran of notable Manhattan establishments like Town and Norma's at the Parker Meridien, and a Culinary Institute of America alumnus. His menu offers his own interpretation of eclectic contemporary cuisine alongside tried-and-true standards. The restaurant, by the way, is named not for Angel himself, but for his 6-year-old daughter.Not long after our arrival, a complimentary nibble of crusted wild mushroom risotto graced our table along with herb buttered bread. Both set the stage for good things to come.We began our meal with one tried-and-true item, French onion soup, and one of Angel's flights of fancy, stuffed squid. The onion soup was a well-executed classic of sweetly caramelized onions with a cheesy gratinee. The stuffed squid was, in a sense, a two for one. About half of the squid had been fried in a lighter than a feather tempura-like batter. The unfried half was stuffed with an artichoke stuffing complemented by a roasted pepper coulis sauce. The artichoke stuffing needed a little more piquancy. The coulis helped, but was not sufficiently abundant to balance the blandness of the stuffing. The fried calamari melted on the tongue, but stuffed definitely required chewing.Sauteed sea bass is served here with a timbale of peas risotto and ginger lime emulsion. The delicate flavor of the sweet juicy sea bass played off the creamy risotto nicely - a happy marriage. Our other entree, paella, was hearty and fragrant. The saffron rice was abundant with chicken, shrimp, mussels, calamari and intensely garlicky chorizo. Well executed and very satisfying.The whole menu is well chosen with a bounty of enticing offerings. Braised short ribs with celery puree, roasted root vegetables and veal just made us want to come back soon for another sampling. Spinach fettuccine with sauteed wild mushrooms and shaved Parmesan sounds like just the ticket for the vegetarians in your party. If not, there is a vegetarian daily special. For unrepentant carnivores, there is a full selection of steaks and rack of lamb. We applaud that the salmon with braised baby fennel, shitake mushrooms, fennel puree and tumeric buerre blanc was wild, not farmed. We also note that the chicken on the menu is free range. We like to think this signifies an incursion of the Sustainable Agriculture movement to Queens.We completed our meal with a wickedly sinful chocolate souffle accompanied by vanilla ice cream. The chocolatiness was sooo intense. Chocolate bliss. A well-executed classic. The Bottom LineIf you're looking for a sophisticated menu of good food in attractive surroundings without overspending, Angie's has it all. Angie's also has a terrific breakfast and lunch menu and serves brunch daily. There is live jazz on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and for Sunday brunch. A Woodside find!Angie's Kitchen41-46 54th St.718-651-2277www.angieskitchen.comCuisine: Classic preparation of eclectic contemporary cuisineSetting: Quirkily invitingService: Friendly and accommodatingHours: Breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch seven daysReservations: Recommended on weekendsAlcohol: Full barParking: StreetDress: CasualChildren: WelcomeMusic: Thursday to Saturday evenings, Sunday brunchTakeout: YesCredit cards: YesNoise level: AcceptableHandicap accessible: YesRecommended DishesFrench onion soup...$5PaellaÉ$17Sauteed sea bassÉ$17Broiled wild salmonÉ$15Braised short ribsÉ$16Garlic shrimpÉ$15Angie's chocolate souffleÉ$6

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