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(E) Review of Croatian Restaurant Ponticello in Astoria
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  10/20/2003 | Croatian Cuisine | Unrated
(E) Review of Croatian Restaurant Ponticello in Astoria


Ponticello Ristorante

The following appeared in the Sunday edition of Newsday, in its Queens
Section. I've been here before and recommend it as well. They also
serve Croatian wine.   John Kraljic


DINING OUT: Ponticello
By Peter M. Gianotti

October 19, 2003


(2 Starts)

ASSESSMENT: Confident Italian.

OPEN: Dinner every day. Monday to Friday for lunch.

PRICE RANGE: Main courses, $16.50 to $28; pastas and risotto, $13.50 to
$16.50; appetizers, $7.95 to $11.95; soups and salads, $6 to $8.50.

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Main dining room at street level.

DIRECTIONS: Between 46th and 47th streets.

Four stars mean outstanding; three, excellent; two, very good; one,
good; none, fair or poor.

Ponticello, for decades one of Broadway's brighter lights, has upped its

Renovated and expanded, the veteran restaurant definitely stands out. It
remains a sturdy marble bridge to traditional Italian fare along a route
dominated by cuisines Asian and Latin.

The player piano is devoted to Sinatra classics, show tunes and an
occasional polka. The staff moves to the slower numbers, sometimes
attentively, sometimes perfunctorily. But owners Josip "Pepi" Honovic
and Bogomir "Luigi" Kucica are an ever-watchful, friendly duo, giving
Ponticello neighborly warmth.

Their main room, a high-ceilinged space decorated with architectural
drawings of capitals and rimmed with cascading greenery, is comfortable
and very busy. More private rooms are on the side, and downstairs
opposite a well-stocked wine cellar.

Daily specials abound, but listen carefully because edited versions can
be heard at each table. The waiter quickly recites a few. So one group
may learn about half the seafood, and another receive a partial pasta
briefing. After three or four nearby tables get their messages, you
should know most of the evening's repertoire.

Bracing, generous minestrone is a satisfying starter. It's much better
than the pale, underseasoned onion soup and pastina in brodo. The hot
antipasto is an uneven affair, highlighted by fine eggplant rollatine,
marred by overcooked stuffed mushrooms and baked clams.

Spiedini alla Romana, the deep-fried cheese sandwich with a tangy,
caper-strewn sauce, is a solid, wintry opener. Countless mounds of
lightly gilded, fried calamari come from the kitchen. But the fried
zucchini is more dark brown than gold.

Pastas are worth sampling, either as appetizers or middle courses. They
include very good perciatelli in a spirited, slightly smoky-sweet tomato
sauce flecked with pork. Penne with broccoli, garlic and oil, is a
blunt, tasty dish. Pappardelle here are diamonds of pasta, tossed in a
modest veal sauce. But spaghetti carbonara is on the dull side, more
heavy than rich. Ponticello prepares hearty, homey manicotti.

The house version of steak alla pizzaiola is among the top main courses:
a fibrous, juicy cut, under a mantle of peppers and scarlet sauce. They
also make veal alla pizzaiola.

Osso buco, mild and mellow, could use a bit of gremolata in the juices,
with its trademark hint of lemon peel. Tender calf's liver alla
Veneziana, however, does have lively flavor, heightened by the onions
and a light, vinegary edge. Rustic pork chops with hot peppers and
vinegar also are flavorful and easily recommended.

Sauteed snapper, respectable and right, materialized instead of the
ordered branzino. Dover sole a la meuniere boasts excellent fish, but
the sauce is cloudy-floury more than buttery, and another shot of
parsley would help, too.

Ponticello's standard accompaniment is a savory combo of mashed potatoes
and cabbage, a country-style hint of the establishment's Istrian roots
that makes you want to sample more of the region's dishes. Sides of
sauteed broccoli rabe and spinach could turn the most ardent carnivore
toward greens.

The desserts you'll be told about are comparatively few. But try the
first-rate cannoli, lush tiramisu and a delectable two-tier rendition of
a napoleon. The ricotta cheesecake doesn't quite hold together; and the
apple strudel is anonymous.

You may linger over a strong espresso and perhaps partake of the sambuca
that alights shortly before. It adds to the glow of Ponticello.

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