In what's fast becoming Long Island's year of tapas, Café Mendoza is the new star.
This is the compact scion of Café Buenos Aires in Huntington. Instead of being a downtown beacon, the newcomer brightens a very modest shopping center. Look for it.
Hugo and Gabriel Garcia oversee Café Mendoza with the same attentiveness and style that have made both Café Buenos Aires and Bistro Cassis Huntington destinations. The father-and-son restaurateurs and business partner Fabio Machado of Restar Hospitality Group have transformed the Commack spot, from polished wood floors to embossed ceiling.
A striking image of wine barrels in an Argentine producer's cellar dominates half the dining room. That's apropos. You'll find excellent wines, plus cocktails and digestifs here. And they complement a wide-ranging selection of tapas, including Huntington favorites. As at Café Buenos Aires, you'll find main courses, too.
Standouts from chefs José Chevez and Jorge Gonzalez include braised pork belly, with nuggets of roasted sweet potato, dates and figs in a Port reduction; and spinach gnocchi with almost-sweet bay scallops in a shiitake-mushroom cream sauce. They are rivaled by sauteed chickpeas matched with zesty longaniza sausage; and a special of tender octopus with chickpeas and chimichurri, the snappy herb sauce.
Piquillo peppers arrive packed with refreshing crab salad. A tuna-and-spinach stuffed empanada is a diverting alternative to the good, more familiar chicken and beef varieties. Slightly overdone: stuffed dates with provolone, wrapped in Serrano ham. Solomillo, a juicy, thin slice of beef atop a portobello mushroom cap, doesn't benefit from melted Brie.
The kitchen sends out a terrific, thick, peppery, grilled rib-eye steak special. But the sizzling spectacle for meat eaters is a mixed grill for two that takes in sliced steak, short ribs, sweetbreads, blood sausage and pork sausage, plus one half of a plump chicken. It's accompanied by mashed potatoes and vegetables. Purists may just ask for a potato salad.
Café Mendoza also offers an ample, tasty lobster roll and a hefty Cuban sandwich, in addition to a moist, aromatic seafood paella. Patatas bravas are spurred by applewood-smoked bacon, jalapeño peppers and chipotle-spiked aioli. The creamy macaroni-and-cheese with smoked bacon will evoke Bistro Cassis.
Mango flan; churros with warm Nutella; poached pear tucked inside tiramisu; and balcarce, or sponge cake with dulce de leche, peaches and meringue, are suitable finales.
As with so much at Café Mendoza, they shine.