34-08 31st Avenue
Astoria, NY 11106
(718) 626-0087

Finding a place to eat in this city, if you're not looking to spend an arm and a leg, should be as easy as pie. And actually, it is. Just don't go looking for help in the major publications (you know who I mean), which are notoriously focused on the trendy or the pricey. If a celebrity doesn't co-own the place or eat there daily, they couldn't care less. That's fine because it doesn't sell magazines or raise your Google rank to talk about places that don't conjure up a fantasy, but it doesn't do the rest of us much good to imply that we might as well just find the nearest Kennedy Fried Chicken and call that our night out.

This time around, I headed back to D's turf of Astoria where we checked out Il Bambino, an Italian tapas and panini restaurant. It's not trendy. It's hardly fancy. For all I know, celebrities run from this place like it were haunted. And it's got some great food. Shhhhh. Don't tell.

One thing that helps keep your feast dirt-assed-cheap is that Il Bambino is BYOB. So even with the corking fee, it's totally affordable. Speaking of which, I call "bullshit" on the corking fee. Since the guy doesn't open your bottle, pour your wine, or top off your glass when you're getting low, this fee was really just a corkscrew rental.

It's tapas and all of the dishes are small. But you're supposed to order and bunch and share them. So let's get to it.

The first thing we did was order a Smoked Tomato Soup. It's served with an absolutely amazing garlic pesto bread and tastes almost like a smoky vodka sauce. This was easily my least favorite dish and I'm glad we got it over with the first. That tells you something about the rest of the meal, since I thought the soup was actually very good. Anyway, next we started in on the solid foods. The first of the numerous plates we ordered was Carpaccio of Brasaola, with baby arugula, manchego and lemon aioli. This cured beef salad was incredible. It's not something I'd really ever have as a staple of my diet, but the paper thin beef and cold salad atop it seemed perfectly fitted to this warm early evening. All of the dishes we ordered, except for the panini, were cold. Keep that in mind as you decide if cold dishes of ultra-thin meats, loads of cheese and cold veggies are for you.

I really liked the Manchega and Membrillo we ordered, but almost wished we saved it until last. It was almost dessert sweet; a fluffly sweet jam and cheese. And the Prosciutto Di Parma, served with mozzarella, and a sundried tomato pesto was excellent, too. Finally, the final small plate, the Truffle Egg With Shaved Speck. Definitely for the egg people at the table, this almost egg-salady dish with speck (smoked cured ham), served on a cracker was perhaps the weakest of the dishes, but I like egg so can still recommend it. By the way, I don't mean to underwrite the experiences of eating these dishes, but I feel that it's silly to bash you over the head with overblown statements of amazingness. I liked it and I think you will too. If you're tired of the typical red sauce Italian places (and who isn't?), I suggest you come here.

Half of Il Bambino's menu is panini. According to their sign, it's kinda their thing. Since we wanted to be able to divide everything amongst four people, we were hesitant about ordering paninis. This was probably a mistake, since they're big enough that we could have divided them. I know this because, feeling like we should have something hot, we did decide to order one, the Prosciutto Panini (there's a lot more cured meat than you think in Italy). Inside was prosciutto, a gorgonzola dolche, and a fig spread. I was not really a fan. It was sweet, but bitter at the same time. I can't really endorse this one. But given how much I liked the rest of the food, I'd be more than willing to guess that this was just an unlucky menu choice on my part. Especially given the boastful sign...

A quick note. It just so happens that everyting we ordered was easily dived into four parts so that all of us could try everything.

Two soups, one panini and four small plates, plus a $5 corking fee came $60 even, including tax and tip.

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