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The name of the new Chichen Itza in Rockville Centre refers, ostensibly, to the Mayan pyramids in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. But there's another meaning, says chef-owner Marcos Merino, who translated the appellation literally as "good food in the mouth of warriors."

Armed with a healthy appetite, I hit the place for lunch, which began auspiciously with a lively and colorful bowl of chicken avocado soup ($6). What the soup really had going for it was lots of tender poultry -- dark as well as white meat.

Following that, though, came barbacoa ($12), beef marinated with chiles and slow-cooked in plantain leaves, which didn't lack zing but was really chewy. On the other hand, a friend's shrimp in garlic sauce ($14) hit all the right notes.

Chichen Itza is at 212B Merrick Rd., Rockville Centre, 516-766-3419. -- JOAN REMINICK


Big news out of Albertson: Avenue Café (formerly La Gondola) is no more. The restaurant's affordable, if unimaginative, $19.95 three-course prix fixe might have been its last gasp.

Now for the good news: Mitch SuDock, chef and co-owner of the recently closed Bistro M in Glen Head, has joined forces with dining room manager Toni Contino to open Mitch & Toni's American Bistro on the site. The contemporary New American spot will focus on the seasonal and local.

No firm launch date as yet, but we'll keep you posted.

Mitch & Toni's American Bistro is at 875 Willis Ave., Albertson, 516-671-2498. -- JOAN REMINICK


Don't you just love surprises? España, a new tapas restaurant in St.James, is exactly that. If not for its bright red and yellow sign, I'd probably have whizzed right past.

Co-owner Julio Caro, a former wine salesman who managed some Spanish restaurants in Manhattan, is a welcoming presence. He recites specials, comments on the menu and offers suggestions from the list of affordably priced wines by the glass and the bottle.

Sipping fruit-filled sangria, Rioja and malbec, three of us shared a big platter of meats, cheeses and olives ($16.95) that included some lovely Serrano ham, mildly spicy chorizo (dry-cured pork sausage) and cheeses, among them Valdeon, tetilla and two types of Manchego.

Standing out among seafood dishes was the ultra-tender octopus, Galician style, sweet and spicy, with paprika, olive oil and potatoes ($8.95). Papas bravas, a special of fried potatoes drizzled with a spicy coral-hued sauce, was irresistible. An entree of sole in green sauce ($12.95) was good, but not quite as exciting as the tapas.

The place is co-owned by Mauricio Oliveros, who also owns the nearby Maurcio's Orlando II. Keep in mind, if the front parking lot looks filled, there are lots more spaces in the rear.

España Tapas & Wine Bar is at 655 Middle Country Rd., St. James, 631-656-1564. -- JOAN REMINICK

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