NYC’s Mozzarella King Introduces Da Franco to Astoria

Da Franco Italian Restaurant located near the lovely Astoria Park, is celebrating its first Thanksgiving by offering a Prix Fixe menu.  Love, passion and fine Italian cooking combine to present this four-course meal, offered all day, from 12pm to 11pm, for the great price of $40.  You’ll feel right at home with Da Franco’s warm Italian hospitality.

Daily seasonal specialties will also be available, as well as Da Franco’s usual lunch/dinner menus.

Da Franco Restaurant is located at 23-92 21st Street Astoria, Queens 11105

Phone: 718-267-0010

NYC’s Mozzarella King Introduces Da Franco to Astoria

Ask Franco Spatola how he makes his mozzarella so special, and he’ll start chuckling to himself. “How do I make my mozzarella?” he’ll repeat. “I have many secrets, but they’re all under lock and key.” Having learned the process from his cheese-making parents in Mondragone, Italy, the center of the mozzarella universe, Franco is beyond passionate about his well-honed craft. To see the exceptional results, turn to some of the best pizzerias and Italian restaurants in the city—or better yet, turn to the source itself, Spatola’s newly-opened Da Franco Ristorante Italiano, located a short walk away from Astoria Park.

In order to fully appreciate Da Franco and its culinary finesse, it’s important to start the story at the beginning. Growing up with his cheese- and food-loving parents in Palerno, appreciating a hearty Italian feast was inherently in Spatola’s blood.  Still, he could never have foreseen leaving an illustrious soccer career behind to pursue the food business in faraway New York. That’s exactly what happened in 1970, when his dreams of going pro shifted into visions of his first pizzeria, which he opened near the School of the Performing Arts in Midtown Manhattan.

It certainly helped that Spatola had an immediate fan base with the nearby students—his earliest admirers included Freddie Prinze, Linda Bellafonte, and later, Steve Rubell, then-owner of the infamous Studio 54 who made sure that Spatola never wait in line or pay for a drink at his epic establishment. Before long, his second restaurant, Figaro 45 was the city’s Italian hotspot, frequented by the likes of Al Pacino and Christopher Reeve.

After two decades of sheer success in Midtown, Spatola knew it was time to set his sights higher. If his next restaurant were to strive for the same quality that he had come to know in his childhood, he’d have to start making more ingredients himself. Thus was born Spatola-Latticini, his Ridgewood, Queens mozzarella factory, which continues to produce fresh mozzarella and bocconcini on a daily basis. The few secrets he’ll reveal about his cheese-making process happen early in the production cycle: By controlling details like pH, water temperature, salt balance, weather and curd maturity, Spatola yields mozzeralla products that are  moist and perfectly salted.

All that Spatola has learned throughout his forty years in the restaurant industry comes into play at Da Franco, which is a true labor of love. With the help of his mother’s recipes and a staff that’s like family to him, the restaurant is an extremely personal endeavor, and the amount of passion fueling it emanates from each course.

Diners have seemingly endless choices, allowing for variety as customers return again and again, and one after another, they are executed with precision and flair. This is evident right from the start, as a tray of piping hot house-made foccacia, soft and doughy, sprinkled with crushed herbs arrives to the table. A spread of cold antipasto yields the purest tasting olives alongside balsamic-marinated artichoke hearts, Portugese sardines (one of Spatola’s proudest ingredients, imported twice weekly) and slices of cacio cavallo and fresh mozarella cheese. The star of the antipasto caldo dello chef (or hot appetizer selection) is undoubtedly the calamari fritti, so gently battered and delicately fried that the oil is hardly detectable. The secret here is that the oil is discarded after each individual batch, keeping the flavors as clean as possible.

With the help of Luca, his resident pizza expert, and a special Marsal oven that heats evenly from all sides, Spatola is able to create truly unforgettable pizzas that make the trip to Astoria all the more worthwhile. The dough uses semolina flour—an unusual touch—which keeps the crust at an even thickness as the rest of the pie. It’s not a traditional approach—only Spatola’s personal invention, which he playfully calls “Franco Style.” Though the Margherita is a classic and guaranteed crowd pleaser with its high quality San Marzano DOP tomatoes, it’s the Pizza Alla Modena that Spatola regards most highly. Speckled with cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella (from the factory, of course), prosciutto, arugula, and shaved parmigiano reggiano, it is a harmonic blend of luxurious flavors presented on the most comforting of palettes.

Insalate, or salads, are not your typical green dishes—they’re interesting compositions of vegetables such as the Insalata di Fagiolini e Patate he remembers from his youth. It combines boiled potatoes with string beans, olives, thinly sliced onions, herbs and olive oil into a uniquely cold and refreshing treat that’ll challenge any notion that potato salad must be heavy and drowned in mayonnaise.

As for the pasta, there’s no question that this is where Da Franco’s culinary gifts are most easily experienced. For each portion, Spatola whips up a fresh batch of sauce, which speaks to the integrity and standards of the kitchen. Spaghetti Al Filetto di Pomodoro is no more complicated than spaghetti with fresh tomato and basil, but close your eyes as you eat it and you won’t need much convincing to feel that you’re in one of Italy’s most reputed kitchens. Cappelli di Preti, playfully shaped to look like a priest’s hat, are a subtle yet nuanced dish of spinach tortelloni served with a rich and earthy Gorgonzola cream sauce. Even more addicting, perhaps, are the Gnocchi alla Sorrentina, which are hand-shaped one by one to maintain their perfectly tender texture and best hold the pink sauce that delicately clings to each dumpling.

Entrees span a wide range, starting with a traditional peasant dish from Venice featuring fried sardine filets stuffed with caramelized onions and drizzled with white wine vinegar, smartly pairing a crunchy and savory exterior with a salty and sweet finish. On the other end of the spectrum, a spin on Vitello Alla Marsala welcomingly refreshes the stodgy classic by lightly infusing the sauce with shallots and serving the veal atop a bed of ultra-creamy polenta that any Italian nonna would be proud of.

Da Franco is located at 23-92 21st Street in Astoria, Queens, and is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner from 12 PM to 11 PM. For more information on private parties and reservations, please call 718-267-0010 or visit http://dafrancoitalianrestaurant.com.


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