Wednesday, March 25, 2009


At the end of my street in Astoria, there's this restaurant.  I'm convinced it's owned and operated by the Mafia. Four years ago, when I first moved back to New York after a short-lived stint in Boston, I was taken to this restaurant by family friends.  I remember thinking that it was straight out of a Sopranos episode.  Until last night, I hadn't been back.  

But we were looking for a way to pass time without going too far from my apartment, so Piccola Venezia it was.  The dining room was as I'd remembered, replete with mirrored walls and red-tuxedoed waiters.  The wine list was a leather bound book boasting an impressive--if incongruous--array of Napa Valley cabs.  The menu hit every note of familiar (with the exception of my personal favorite, linguine with clams) and the white linen tablecloths inspired in me some kind of unwilling nostalgia.  Also, I'm pretty sure that the only other table in the restaurant, a couple older than us, were engaged in some frisky extramarital affair.  Funny, but true. 

We ordered a bottle of 1992 Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon, which was delicious if not quite Italian.  We shared mussels in white sauce (respectable, if not life-changing) and shells with ground pork and broccoli rabe (a dish I happen to prefer with orrichette, but who really cares) to start.  The waiter brought bruschetta with crushed tomatoes, sliced provolone, olives, and sopressata.  My entree, thin-pounded veal with mozzarella and mushrooms--although I swear the menu said eggplant--was a bit tough.  My date's osso bucco was plate-consuming.  I was surprised at how pillowy the accompanying gnocchi remained. 

For dessert, I mistakenly ordered baked Alaska, because I've never had it before.  Perhaps this was my week of saccharine sweet desserts.  Over-sugared meringue enveloped an over-sugared brownie, all of which sat in a pool of over-sugared strawberry something or other.  It was too much.  But the complimentary cookies ("you're always getting free stuff," my date half-complained) were kind of perfect chocolate chip tasties.  

When I think back on the Italian meals of my childhood, this restaurant is what comes to mind.  I don't think it matters that the food is just okay, or that the wine list has nothing to do with the, er, region of focus.  I think what matters is that this type of spot is readily disappearing and I'd like to will it back into the American reality, except that I'm kind of broke and eating like an Italian principessa ain't cheap. 

Piccola Venezia
42-01 28th Avenue
Astoria, NY 11103

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