Dine Like A Duke
Il Ducale Ristorante
12-53 150th St., Whitestone
HOURS: Noon- 11 p.m., 7 days
CREDIT CARDS: All major
In Queens, one can say Italian eateries are a dime a dozen, but in Whitestone, where there is no shortage of places to enjoy the cuisine of that boot-shaped country, there is one place that stands out.
Il Ducale, which means “of the duke” in Italian, is more than just an eating experience; it’s almost like a mini tour of Italy in itself. Inside is the ornate dining room decorated with floor to ceiling frescos of the Italian coastline that almost makes you feel you are eating on a top of a cliff in Amalfi, on a beachfront in Reggio Calabria, the water splashing up against the patio, or on a hilltop overlooking the Adriatic in Ancona, watching the ferries disappear over the horizon.
But getting lost in the ambience is only the beginning. For anyone who has ever been to and eaten in Italy, Ducale’s cuisine is even more of a throwback than the paintings of the red roof shorefront villages. You will feel as if you’re eating meals made specifically for a duke.
For starters, we dove into a mixed selection of shellfish, ricotta rolled-up in eggplant and stuffed mushrooms.
Three out of four of us enjoyed the mixed platter. To our delight, one of our companions suffered from a shellfish allergy which meant there was an extra item for each. Thank God for delicious allergens.
The shrimp was the table’s favorite. As they swiftly disappeared from the plate, we silently moved on to the stuffed clams while our shellfish-free friend sat waiting in envy for the main courses to arrive. The lightly breaded baked clams melted like butter on our taste buds, comparable to some of the best we’ve ever tried. With just a bit of room in our bellies we stuffed the rolled-up ricotta eggplants down and sat satisfied while waiting for the next course.
One by one, our waiter placed our plates before us, one chicken dish after another and fitting to our personalities.
The Pollo Normandi, chicken breasts marinated with diced apples, raisins and cognac cream sauce, is a dish not often seen at many Italian eateries, but it’s the perfect meal for a summer, or autumn day, and one for a lover of sweet, fruity flavors. Sometimes the dish can be tart, but Ducale’s recipe delivered just enough fruity essence to give the dish its signature flavor without going overboard. When biting down on a slice of chicken, be sure to top it with a slice or two of apple and a few raisins for the full effect.
If the Duke was going capture our taste buds, he’d have to do it with something simple. And he did.
Initially, one of us was hesitant about ordering a dish that required too much effort from the chef. So he stuck with an Italian staple of mine (or at least what he believed to be an Italian staple) and choose the chicken parmesan with a side of spaghetti.
The side of spaghetti was just as any other, so he immediately directed his fork towards to perky poultry. A generously carved cutlet lay beneath a melting muddle of mozzarella cheese mesmerizing him.
Whether it was because he had not eaten out in a long (long) time or that this was after only having a bowl of dry cereal for breakfast that morning, he was sold.
Awaiting her first real meal since breakfast, our allergy-prone guest’s plate arrived just in time. The Chicken Francese came on a platter-sized dish with three generously sized chicken breasts. Each golden brown morsel had just the right amount of crispiness. The sauce had the perfect hint of lemon and herbs, and there was plenty to spare. After the heaping side of lightly sauced pasta, there wasn’t much room for dessert, but that didn’t stop us from splitting one.
Given the Italian-ness of the meal’s proceedings, tiramisu felt mandatory. With cappuccinos and espressos, which could hold their own against any warm brew served at a café, we washed it back, restarting our engines.
The fluffy lady fingers making up the tiramisu’s central layers remained firm, despite soaking up a sizable amount of coffee. Where others often crumble under the pressure of a fork, this tiramisu retained its shape and consistency, the bitterness of the coffee mixing with a sweet cream to give a balanced and refreshing finale to our meal.
It seems the ownership picked a deserving name. Il Ducale truly is Whitestone’s Duke of Italian cuisine.
–Queens Tribune Staff