An icy wind howls down Jericho Turnpike, but the moment I step inside Caldas in New Hyde Park, the world feels warm.
That's mostly because the the bar and dining room draw a convivial neighborhood crowd. Much of the chatter is in Portuguese, but even if you don't speak the language, you ought to feel right at home. The hospitable crew knows English and aims to please everyone.
Everyone loves a good show - especially if it involves fire. And Portuguese sausage. The flaming chourico (chorizo) is doused with Portuguese brandy before it's ignited by a server; it's not only an eyeful - it also lights up the palate.
Another high-voltage starter is "house" shrimp, heads-on crustaceans bathed in a spicy red sauce, a messy peel-and-eat experience.
Arroz de marisco puts a Portuguese spin on the classic Spanish seafood paella. The dish is made with crab legs, shrimp, clams and rice and is nothing short of delectable. A whole grilled sea bass wears a jacket of crackly crisp skin over delicate white meat. I can't believe it's only $15.
Grilled shell steak (with commendable home-fried potatoes) is rosy on the inside and oozes juices. Another hit is fried sliced pork with spicy sauce. Specials, like a squid and shrimp kebab, rev up your options.
My all-out favorite, though, is a Portuguese specialty called "bacalao a bras," a hash of scrambled eggs, salted cod and potatoes. One bite and I'm hooked; I'd gladly eat it for breakfast.
A baked pear is ideal for dessert. Another time, there's flan, light and eggy.
A traditional specialty, pork and clams, is undone by overdone pork, a chore to chew. Grilled salmon is also overcooked, drab.
Food is often slow in coming. And some dishes on the menu are not always available.
Appetizers such as the house-style shrimp (at $14 a dozen) are meant to feed anywhere from two to four. And entrees, which average around $14 each, are generous in size, big on value.
Caldas is located at 2224 Jericho Tpke., New Hyde Park, 516-216-5665