2008-10-01 / Restaurant of the Week

Bistro Boîte é Café

40-17 30th Avenue, Astoria 718.204.0879

t his comfortable little French bistro opened about a month ago, bringing a taste of French bistro dining to the neighborhood. The corner bistro is surrounded by glass doors that open to the street, allowing cool breezes to fill the dining room, along with soothing music. The intimate dining room is decorated with postcards

and newspapers from France, all illuminated

by candle glow. A cozy nook in the rear of the dining room is ideal for intimate dining or a small, private dinner.

The menu epitomizes the perfect blend of traditional French bistro fare and originality. Milton Enriquez Ramirez, co-chef/owner, is currently the Executive Chef at Compass on the Upper West Side; Julio Escalante, co-chef/owner, is a private chef in Greenwich, Connecticut and Luis Alvarez, owner and is the operator of a trucking company. It is very rare to have two talented chefs working together under the same roof. Chef Julio traveled extensively throughout Europe studying the different cuisines of the old world. Their commitment to French cooking comes out of the commitment of the masters. Chef Julio, a native of Central America, speaks French as beautifully as he prepares its cuisine.

Bistro Boîte é Café serves lunch and dinner six days a week and weekend brunch, utilizing the freshest meats, chicken, fish and pasta. There are several surprising touches in this re-interpreted cuisine, all of which are a delight to the palate and the eyes. Start with a refreshing salad of baby beets and tender watercress, tossed with aged goat cheese, dried cherries and smoked almonds, dressed with dill-scented yogurt ($9.50). Duck comfit truffle with handmade potato gnocchi are topped with crimini mushrooms, butternut squash and parsley puree. The combination of flavors and textures is almost intoxicating. Not to be outdone, my dining companion ordered the sweet Maine lobster risotto and we were both impressed with the chunks of lobster amidst the creamy, toothsome risotto. Most impressive was the presentation, garnished with a ribbon of reggiano and lobster foam that was literally as light as air. Next time I'll try the

Salmon tartar with capers and fennel relish. The bistro-sized menu covers all categories and each dish is nicely executed. Many of the provisions are purchased from organic farms in New York, for flavor and freshness. Herb-crusted hake fish is grilled to a flaky finish with a golden crust, and rests atop a mound of quinoa, a barley-type grain, cucumbers, tomato, mint and ginger béarnaise sauce ($16.95). This fish was supremely fresh and rendered easily to my fork. Braised lamb shank is a

hearty dish, cooked slowly for hours until the meat easily yields from the hefty bone. Below it, cauliflower puree, swiss chard and glazed root vegetables make this the perfect autumn meal, so pull on a sweater and go for it. Organic chicken breast is pan seared till crisp on the outside and is served with bean puree, eggplant and grilled romaine lettuce ($18.95). An organic strip loin is pan-roasted to order and served with mashed potatoes, leeks, spinach and red wine sauce. Handmade pasta is topped with duck comfit, brussel sprouts, wild mushrooms and mozzarella ($14.95).

A special bistro menu sticks closer to home with classic dishes such as mussels with white

wine and a touch of smoky flavor from chorizo sausage ($11.95). Salad Nicoise with chunks of tuna, egg and olives is the perfect lunch or light dinner, as is the onion soup gratinee. Classic steak frites is just the ticket, or have it topped with peppercorns "au poivre". Croque Monsieur is France's version of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, like none you've ever had before. To welcome you to Bistro Boíte é Café, a special "prix fixe" menu is being offered that allows you to try some of their best dishes at just $19.95. Choose the soup du jour or a salad to start, an entrée and your choice of one of their fabulous desserts for just $19.95, even on the weekends. Speaking of dessert, the mocha flan and chocolate creme brulee are excellent. Tender crepes are filled with custard cream.

While they await their beer and wine license, you are permitted to BYOB and the staff will open and pour for you. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 3pm, followed by dinner service. Enjoy a fluffy omelet with crab meat, fennel and mozzarella or irresistible brioche French toast with fresh fruit, chantilly and maple syrup. The lamb burger is mildly spiced and served with field greens, Montrachet cheese and pommes frites (French fries).

Bistro Boîte é Café is open six days a week from 12 noon until 11pm (closed Mondays). Credit cards are accepted and BYOB for now. Visit soon and enjoy some classic French bistro fare with a modern interpretation. The ambience is pleasant and comfortable and the food is great. Bienvenue !

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