>> Friday, August 21, 2009

109-32 Ascan Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 261-1239

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.


Laura Lutz August 24, 2009 at 12:31 PM  

Craptastic! Thanks for the laugh!

So when are you going to review Cabana? I also thought about taking a friend to MoCA the other day (I haven't been yet) and checked to see if you had reviewed it. Have you tried it yet?

Jon Parker August 24, 2009 at 1:01 PM  

Cabana is always on the list of places to go, but the line is either too long, or my friends aren't in the mood or latin when they make the long haul here to Queensland. As for MoCA, I've been there once. Not bad food, but I think they're the most expensive restaurant in FH (defunct pajama steakhouse notwihstanding), so my doing a real review of them is always backburnered. But I definitely want to go soon.

Laura Lutz August 27, 2009 at 3:30 PM  

Cabana is my favorite in FH, thus far. If you go for lunch, I recommend staying away from the sandwiches - they're dry. If it's up your alley, order the pitcher of sangria: it's potent, delicious, and a steal.

I've put my name on a 2-hour-long list at Cabana...walked down to Bonfire for a drink (about all it's good for - I've had hideous luck there)...and then got back in time for my name to be called. Soooo worth it, though I can see where anyone trekking in from the other boroughs wouldn't want that sort of hassle.

Anonymous,  December 20, 2009 at 11:55 AM  

Laughed my ass off on this one. You are dead on the P place! Will never go back again! We did try 20 years ago. Only FH can accommodate the place as a joke!

Jon Parker December 21, 2009 at 3:50 AM  

I wish it weren't funny. I wish they were halfway decent.

Anonymous,  January 13, 2010 at 3:38 PM  

I think La Vigna is the only place that surpasses Portofino on my list of Italian unless you count Alberto. If only the kitchen was faster at La Vigna.
Although non-foodie related, Portofino gets points from me for supporting the community and being kid/family friendly.

Jon Parker January 13, 2010 at 5:44 PM  

If no Italian restaurants surpass Portofino but La Vigna and Alberto, then the bar here in FH is set absurdly low. As far as serving the community is concerned (and this will sound harsh, I warrant), they'd serve it better by closing and opening up a West Elm there instead.

Anonymous,  April 25, 2011 at 7:46 PM  

I had sworn off Portofino 20+ years ago when they served my daughter a cheese cannelloni with green moldy cheese inside. Whenever I notice their continued existence I always wonder why. I came across this review, and hoped it would answer my question. It didn't.

teppy January 28, 2012 at 10:11 PM  

Went to Portofino for a party, First of all we were greeted like we were part of the family, very warmly welcomed, We had 20 people there, from start to finished it was amazing, the food got better and better as we went on, every person at the party couldnt stop talking about their meal, we were even tasting each others food, I will definetly be back there and will also book some future parties. Number 1 in my book !!!

Jon Parker January 28, 2012 at 11:01 PM  

Well, hey, I'm glad you enjoyed it. But each time I've gone (more than once, I might add) it's always been a solid number two.

teppy January 29, 2012 at 2:46 PM  

Ive been there many times, just so happened that was the first time I was there for a large party, they did a suburb job with a large amount of people as they do when I go with just a few friends. Portofino has been there 30 something years with the same owner, they must be doing something right. : ]

teppy January 29, 2012 at 2:46 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
E February 8, 2013 at 9:27 PM  

This should happen again.

teppy February 8, 2013 at 9:57 PM  

I have been eating at portofino for many years, I have never had a bad meal there The food is made fresh{ you can tell} they treat you like they have known you for years and always are willing to make you anything you want, thats not on the menu. There is a reason they have been in business for so long and he place is always busy. I guess they are doing something right.

teppy February 8, 2013 at 9:58 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.

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