More than a decade ago, I wrote my first Newsday review: "If you're driving the bleak, scrubby strip of Jericho Turnpike between Commack and Smithtown," it began, "it's easy to miss the small roadhouse that is Casa Luis, a restaurant so new it doesn't have its own sign yet."

These days, the popular Spanish restaurant not only has a sign, but it's impossible to miss, its exterior strung with white lights, its parking lot perennially full. Inside, little has changed. The menu is almost identical to what it was a decade ago, minus a few Mexican dishes. The decor is still nondescript, the air fragrant with garlic, the welcome warm.

One reason Casa Luis has continued to thrive is the satisfaction quotient of good Spanish cooking. You'll experience it in the gambas al ajillo, shrimp in a lively garlic sauce. Pinchos morunos, bits of garlic-marinated pork, are irresistible. Clams posillipo, a Spanish take on an Italian favorite, features fresh clams in a thick herbal tomato sauce.

The mariscada ajillo is splendid, with its assortment of clams, shrimp and mussels in a slightly spicy, intoxicatingly garlicky sauce over saffron-perfumed rice. Make sure the waiter brings you some of the shatteringly crisp papas fritas, Spanish fried potato chips. Order the shrimp with green sauce, plump crustaceans in a parsley-flecked garlic and sherry sauce. Salmon with green sauce takes a sometimes prosaic fish to a new level. Paella Valencia, the traditional Spanish dish that includes chicken, sausage, clams, mussels, scallops and shrimp over rice, is savory and fine, marred only by overcooked shrimp.

For dessert, the natilla (vanilla custard), topped with a cinnamon-infused syrup, can be grainy. Best is the fried ice cream topped with nuts.

Warm, timeless and reassuring, Casa Luis is the kind of place to visit when winter winds blow.



-Joan Reminick.

Reviewed 12-15-2000

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