We approached Locale with a hint of trepidation. Astoria seems maxed out on Mediterranean restaurants -- both the old-school tuxedoed waiter kind and the supposedly chic places with blaring music and insider attitude -- and we wondered what this new cafe-restaurant tucked away on a quiet corner of 34th Avenue would add to the mix.
What we found wasn't earth-shattering: Locale won't necessarily go on the list of Astoria must-trys. But its atmosphere and menu collide to create what Cafe Bar strives, and fails, to be: a restaurant offering Astoria's Mediterranean heritage to its influx of younger, non-European residents, without alienating the Euro crowds that populate the more established cafes on 30th Avenue.
The largely Italian menu features well-selected glimpses of personality beyond red sauce: chicken with fontina and figs, pasta with red beet mascarpone. Its standard dishes please -- we've tried a variety of salads at Locale, and the gnocchi, a dish often overcooked and made gummy even in supposedly schooled hands, was toothsome without being chewy or mushy. Vegetarian options abound on the pasta panini menu (and the salad menu too, if you're content with goat cheese, which Locale heavily relies on to bulk up the salads). We stuck with a (slightly overpriced) bottle of wine, but the cocktail list is primed to please -- pineapple mojitos and martinis abound. (We'll forgive Locale the unfortunately named "Panty Dropper.")
More than the food, though, Locale is the rare place that allows one to feel like you're out on the town without being thrust into a crowded joint with thumping music and attitude. Sure, the large-scaled images of nudes in the fetal position are a bit much, but they're not really in-your-face, and the rest of the glass-and-wrought-iron decor is low-key and classic enough to make up for it. Best of all, we could hear both our conversation and the music, which on our recent Friday night visit included the greatest hits of Michael Jackson.
Locale's website claims the restaurant reflects "the neighborhood's modern yet multicultural chic aspect, which has become a signature of present-day Astoria." We wish more places had a clear-cut mission statement, perhaps printed on their business cards -- not so much so we can evaluate them based on the description, but on how close the proprietors come to achieving their goal. In this case, it's a match.
Price: Entrees in the mid-teens.
Will we go again? Seems to suit our mood when we want to go out for a low-key night on the town.