AMERICAN BEAUTY BISTRO
24 Central Ave., Massapequa
AMBIENCE Relaxed bar and dining space featuring pictures of 1940s- and ’50s-era pinup models, stained-wood floors, walls and tables under trendy Edison-style bulbs.
ESSENTIALS: Closed Monday. Dinner, 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Bar, 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday to Friday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Major credit cards accepted, no reservations, takeout, full bar, street parking, wheelchair accessible.
Like Southern comfort-food restaurants, the trend toward small plates shows no signs of slowing. But before the modern version of the movement and fine-dining prix-fixe tasting courses, there was Spanish tapas. You’ll find those authentic small plates listed here, just above entrees such as “seared chicken,” a pair of bone-in crispy breasts and a simple pan sauce with the clean flavor of the bird and garlic.
It’s no accident about the menu. When owner Maria Pallotta and her boyfriend, Michael Cassano, decided to open a restaurant close to their Massapequa home, they wanted a menu that reflected how they dine out: She picks at several small dishes while he prefers larger entrees. Add in a bar with 12 taps dedicated to a rotating stock of craft beers along with Antony Pepe, named one of Time Out New York’s best bartenders for 2015, and the restaurant satisfied their concepts.
Small plates and big flavors come from the tiny kitchen of Colombian-born executive-chef Esteban Gallego, who focused on Spanish tapas while at Barcelona Wine Bar in Brookline, Massachusetts. But things are a little different this time. “We wanted authentic Spanish tapas, but we also wanted bigger entrees and a little bit more of a comfort-food feel,” Cassano said. The menu reflects that with burger, chicken, fish and steak dishes along with salads, a changing selection of tapas, and pairings of imported meats and cheeses. The latter encompasses mild flavors such as taleggio, a soft cow’s milk cheese from Italy, and Spanish manchego, a firmer variety made with sheep’s milk. There are also the usual dried ham and lomo, a cured pork tenderloin. Orders are presented simply on a long wooden board with apricot jam, grilled bread and candied peanuts.
The pan-roasted Yukon Gold potatoes in the papas bravas small plate remain crispy because they rest on top of, not under, an intensely acidic tomato sauce that includes sweet and hot pimiento. In other dishes the ingredients do more of the heavy lifting, as is the case with the ham-and-cheese toasted sandwich. It is crispy, melty and salty enough that the accompanying garlic sauce isn’t necessary. The risotto had a tender, creamy consistency, infused by smoky, porky chorizo.
There was one easily correctable misfire: the bowl of a dozen and a half tender mussels included a handful of vacant stowaways. No such skimping on the roasted cauliflower dish, with chard florets smothered in a manchego cheese sauce and a generous dose of pine nuts.
On the large entrees, the chicken isn’t the only winner, though it’s hard to beat the old-school, airline-cut breasts, butchered in-house. The bistro burger has a savory flavor complimented by the super sharp cheddar cheese and smoky bacon.
The dining room at America Beauty Bistro, with its rose-filled Mason jars decorating the walls and an entrance festooned with a few dozen more scarlet red flowers, is only a faint reference to the 1999 movie starring Kevin Spacey. The real inspirations behind the aesthetic are classic 1940s- and ’50s-era pinups, photos of which rest underneath the bar’s glass top.
American Beauty Bistro should pull in a more diverse crowd than you’d expect at a traditional tapas place. Full-size entrees for the meat-and-potatoes crowd, small plates for groups of sharers, and substantial craft beer and cocktail offerings for the late-night crowd.