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Sangria 71 review: Spanish restaurant brings traditional flavor to Commack

Pan Tumaca with jamon serrano on top of

Pan Tumaca with jamon serrano on top of toasted country bread rubbed with tomatoes, garlic and olive oil at Sangria 71 in Commack. Credit: Daniel Brennan

The number in Sangria 71’s name is a reminder of the original restaurant’s address on Hillside Avenue in Williston Park.

It dates the food, too.

You’re not coming here to find liquid olives, Parmesan marshmallows or any modern-art mouthfuls that sparked new Spanish gastronomy. The “flavors of Spain” at Sangria 71 are as traditional as flamenco and siesta. While a dish or two could inspire an impromptu dance, there also are a few that could put you to sleep.

The second Sangria 71 resides where Main Catch used to be. The place has been politely redone and refined, framed in polished dark wood, accented with sunny hues. There are images of classic Spain and, on busy nights, the noise level of a bullfighting ring, at the table and bar.

Conversation levels rise accordingly. Dining-room topics: as varied as Final Four clashes, a recollection of SNL’s Chevy Chase reporting “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead,” and whether those guindilla peppers next to the shrimp have any kick. They don’t.

Mainly, the voices of three generations are upbeat, a lot like the friendly staff. The restaurant has an amiable, low-key buzz. The house’s respectable sangria, either red or white, contributes to the festivities.

Sip. Then, order tapas. They’re the defining snacks of Spain, where grazing from one specialty spot to another is an obligatory and enjoyable pastime. And they’ve become increasingly popular on Long Island. Brothers José Fernández and Rosendo Fernández Jr. own Sangria 71. They’re from Galicia, and specialties from their verdant corner of northwestern Spain also make cameo appearances.

They include good octopus, either grilled or finished with paprika, sea salt and olive oil. Sauteed chorizo sausage with wine, onions and more leads appetites to a second glass. A savory frittata of onion and potatoes vanishes fast. Bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almond earn smiles from younger diners; beef empanadas, from their parents.

But even a picador couldn’t coax any response from pale, metallic fried artichokes; codfish croquettes that are one twist removed from Mrs. Paul’s Crunchy Fish Sticks; and anything in the shy green sauce. Undercooked and under-seasoned patas bravas display no boldness; and those shrimp “pil pil” with guindillas turn pretty chewy. Bluepoint oysters, baked with spinach and manchego cheese, seem like Rockefeller manqué.

Instead, try the Serrano ham-and-chicken croquettes with béchamel; and the pan tumaca, or garlic-rubbed, toasted bread that’s capped with a sheaf of Serrano ham. Ask that they just rub the tomato on the bread rather than mimic bruschetta.

The especially hungry pick the generous, juicy pork chops extremena, under a mantle of onions, peppers and sausage; a tender filet mignon; the broiled chicken; and plump chicken breast Villeroy, béchamel-sauced, breaded and pan-fried.

Mariscada, or assorted seafood, with garlic sauce is an ample main course, particularly when you add lobster to it. Straightforward, grilled sea scallops arrive moist and sweet. Very satisfied customers finish the big catch, the assertive bacalao a la Gallega, or salt cod with potatoes, paprika, olive oil and garlic. But paellas veer from soupy to pasty, as if to ensure no coveted crunchy rice at the bottom of the pan.

Be comforted with cream Catalans, or crème brûlée, rather than the churros, cheesecake or tres leches cake. And debate what’s new — the arrival of McDonald’s quarter-pounder and the opening of Chez Panisse, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and the 18-year-old vote. Time for a Harvey Wallbanger.

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