If you're trying to convince friends from Brooklyn to move to Astoria, you would probably want to take them to Il Bambino. It's as unmistakable a sign of gentrification as you could possibly want. On a quiet, well-shaded block, it sits near a bevy of the sorts of places young bourgeois urbanites like: a vintage store, a tea shop, a wine bar, authentic-seeming upscalish ethnic restaurants and the like. Every time we've stopped there for lunch, there are white couples with babies. And its menu is made up of mainly panini, featuring a host of foodie-friendly ingredients: truffle oil, prosciutto di parma, baby arugula, sweet onion marmalade, that sort of thing. And it's delicious, too.
Despite being relatively new to the neighborhood, Il Bambino has cultivated a rustic gentility; thanks to the old furniture and somewhat rickety two-tops in the dining area, it has a faux antique feel. Painted on the wall across from the dessert case up front (Il Bambino is known for its cupcakes as well as its panini) is a giant cross-section of a pig with the cuts of meat annotated in Italian, as if the restaurant were a converted old-time butcher shop. (It's actually the old location of Martha's Country Bakery, now on Ditmars. Clearly the spot has cupcake mojo.)
We can't point to anything on the menu as being particularly outstanding, because it's all been good. The crostini take more culinary risks than the oversized panini, but with excellent results (we particularly like the crostini with truffle egg salad), and any of the panini are sure to please -- pick what you like and trust that it'll be made right. The aforementioned cupcakes are also tasty, but are so enormous as to appear clownish. Nobody really needs a cupcake with a whole Oreo on top -- but if you want it, they've got it.
Part of us wants to protest the Brooklynification of Astoria and make a principle of scorning such places at Il Bambino. But using Il Bambino as an example would make us mere curmudgeons instead of armchair watchdogs of there-goes-the-neighborhood (especially when there are restaurants listing the sound designer in the entryway, though that's less Brooklynification than just plain weird). If we can have restaurants like this nearby without the high rents or the douchey hipsters, then we are benefiting on all fronts.
Price: Extremely affordable given the consistent quality
Will we go again: Absolutely. But it seems an afternoon sort of place, though they do now have alcohol