John Cordoba, the Costa Rican-born co-owner of Cedarhurst Cafe, is something of a mad scientist when it comes to salads -- and his clientele wouldn't have it any other way.
Lunchtime, his eatery by the LIRR station is usually packed with a hard-core, salad-scarfing set.
Hardly dietetic "rabbit food," these are substantial bowls of food, classifiable as both creative and offbeat. Take, for instance, a spinach portobello burger atop mixed greens, haricots verts, baby zucchini, sun-dried blueberries, cherries and organic granola. What makes this mélange work is the wholesome goodness of that fat, fluffy vegetable burger as well as the quality and freshness of everything underneath. A Maine lobster tail salad, whose components include Terra chips and mango, is equally successful. And if you don't like any of the featured dressings -- such as balsamic vinaigrette or honey-mustard -- Cordoba will whip up what you request; he made a fine lemon vinaigrette for me.
The night I returned to check out the dinner menu, executive chef Jose Zamora, who hails from Barcelona, was in sole command of the kitchen, which he usually shares with Cordoba. Zamora established his credibility early on with an appetizer of roasted Spanish chorizo -- actually a layered construct with roasted sliced potato on the bottom, melted Cheddar and jack cheeses in the middle and crisp, spicy sausage on top, the whole wrapped in thin slices of sweet potato. In comparison, New Zealand mussels in white wine and garlic sauce came off as bland and boring, outclassed by a simple appetizer pasta of al dente linguine with peas, garlic and extra-virgin olive oil.
An entree of shrimp and clams in white wine sauce over linguine proved eminently likable. But sweetness from the surprise addition of dried fruit undermined baked flounder with a shrimp and crab stuffing. And while I ended up enjoying my rosemary roasted chicken, I had expected to get an intact half bird. Instead, it had been hacked into bone-in pieces and tossed with roasted vegetables and chorizo, a la chicken scarpariello.
The restaurant makes a deliciously melty Cuban sandwich. Its "big papi" burger, while big and smoky, was at first overcooked; after I sent it back, a new version arrived undercooked. The waiter ultimately removed it from the bill.
A flanlike cheesecake and a warm bread pudding made for fitting finales -- both house-made, both deeply comforting.