>> Friday, August 21, 2009
109-32 Ascan Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
109-32 Ascan Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
I love eating out and getting a meal so perfectly prepared that I actually feel sad when it's over. If you'd like to read about such a meal, then click here for my recent review of Gradisca, in the West Village. It was what Italian restaurants should be. Portofino, on the other hand... well, heh heh, that's a whole other story.
Portofino appeals to people who don't want to stray beyond their comfort zone and who are, ironically, willing to suffer for that comfort. Portofino's interior, with its high ceilings, a nursery's worth of fake floral arrangements, heavily cushioned aluminum chairs and more pastel than a Bermuda condo is like a cross between an expensive diner and a cheap banquet hall. Proudly displaying their desserts and Sutter Home white zinfandel collection in a tall glass fridge right by the entrance way, it's leaning towards diner. Yet despite this, Portofino is one of the most expensive restaurant options available. Three out of five meat entrees are priced over $20 and almost all of the rest are priced over $17. Sure, $20 isn't really bad if the food happens to be really good, but alas, as we were to learn, that was not to be.
E and J met up with me just outside Portofino's portcullis. We were warmly greeted, shown to our table, given our laminated, glossy spiral menus and presented with a 20 piece bucket of garlic bread. It was like KFC. After a solid twenty minutes of pouring over each plastic page, nothing really stood out, so the three of us chose to split a sampler-style appetizer. The Hot Antipasto starter was our choice. After telling our waiter that we'd split it, he asked us if we'd like the appetizer "for two". Not realizing that the size was optional, we agreed. Apparently "for two" means two of them. The dish came with eggplant rollatine, which wasn't bad, but which looked basically a giant cheese-covered blob. Atop it sat perched a single lonely shrimp. The stuffed mushrooms were essentially a single mushroom with a crouton where the stem used to be. The clams and mussels were decidedly fishy-tasting and had more than their fair share of sand. I'd show you a photo of the dish, but every pic just looked like vomit from a different angle.
When our dinners arrived, improvement was relative. J ordered the Grilled Salmon con Verdura, a grilled salmon fillet with grilled vegetables and some undercooked potatoes nestled inside of a iceberg lettuce leaf. The first thing J said was "well, this is pretty oily." The oil aside, the fish was... poor. "I'm repulsed" was E's critique when she tried it. E's dish was the restaurant's namesake chicken dish, the Chicken alla Portofino, and was significantly better than the salmon. It was, supposed to be a chicken breast under a tomato scallion garlic sauce, but was in fact essentially, a huge chicken finger under a cold mild salsa. In keeping with the decorating theme, the undercooked potatoes and iceberg lettuce made their appearance. A bowl of spaghetti accompanied the chicken as a side and was pushed aside after one bite. Still, chicken fingers are always yummy, even if they cost eighteen bucks. If J's dinner was bad and E's dinner was mediocre, my entree sat somewhere in between in the at-least-it's-edible zone: the Farfalle alla Portofino, bow tie pasta with broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes and chunks of filet mignon in a garlic sauce. The pasta was cooked well, but nothing, not even the filet mignon, had an ounce of flavor.
We decided to order dessert, if for no reason other than to gild the lily. It was probably the best part of the meal, with not one offensive dish! But they didn't make the desserts, so maybe our surprise was unwarranted. Still, they gave us sporks to eat with!!! SPORKS!!! Hilarity was had by all. Anyway, J ordered the Apple Torte (apple pie), E ordered the Fruitto di Bosco (berry cream pie) and I tried the Vanilla Mousse (pictured below). All were served with a little dash of Redi-Whip and all were sporktacular.
Okay, so if the guy in the kitchen here is so... in need of help... why is Portofino always bustling? The staff, I can say without hesitation, was very nice. You could not ask for a more smiling group of people. No complaints there. But other than that, what keeps people coming in all the time? Well, the clientele is noticeably older and the elderly knows what they likes and they aren't about to go to some whippersnapper place down the block. Portofino's been around for a long time and their regulars know it. It's comfortable and it probably hasn't changed an iota since 1975. But here's the thing: Forest Hills is getting younger, and younger diners are far more culinarily worldly than their parents and grandparents and thus, less forgiving. With the exception of its service. Portofino failed on almost every level (price, decor, presentation, food) and I, for one, don't envision myself ever eating dinner here again.
Two appetizers, three entrees, three desserts, and two cups of coffee totaled $132 including tax and tip. Sure, the whole experience was... disappointing. On the plus side, I don't think I've laughed at dinner quite so much as I did then.
It should also be noted that I have eaten at their pizza section and had their Chicken Roll, which was massive and surprisingly good. If the marinara sauce it was served with was better it could have been the best in the area. On the downside, the pizza place has table service, so you have to tip, making this the most expensive chicken roll I can remember having.