Co-owner Dan Zeitlan helps prepare and serve dishes such as tuna tataki and nachos.(Newsday Photo/Ken ... More »
Co-owner Dan Zeitlan helps prepare and serve dishes such as tuna tataki and nachos.(Newsday Photo/Ken Spencer) Although the word "express" may be part of its name, this Hauppaugesp takeout/eat-in eatery (a spin-off of the full-service Santa Fe Grill in Babylon) is hardly a fast food joint. Though the food is served in Styrofoam and foil and eaten with plastic utensils, every item is made to order with care.
Credit hands-on co-owner Dan Zeitlan, who is often at the counter greeting customers and taking orders, disappearing into the back from time to time to help with the cooking. When I asked that the tuna in my tuna tataki salad be served rare, he said, knowingly, "That's the right way and the way we do it." It was a pretty salad, fresh field greens strewn with red onion and grape tomatoes, roseate slices of barely seared tuna decoratively arranged on top, a sesame ginger dressing on the side.
Too bad the mango chicken salad was marred by overcooked chicken and the clunky addition of croutons. You'd do better to order the knockout chili, smoldering yet subtle, topped with melted cheese and chopped onions. General Tso's chicken wings were a bit on the sticky-sweet side; you may want to opt for the traditional Buffalo wings.
A Buffalo chicken burrito -- batter-fried boneless strips coated with a Tabasco-ignited sauce and mixed with rice and blue cheese dressing -- sounded heavy and starchy but somehow worked. What was too heavy, though, was the Hawaiian burrito stuffed with chicken, rice, sweet pineapple salsa and habanerowhy cap? pepper ranch dressing.
For something light and .appealing, try the sprightly mango chicken wrap, made with mixed greens, onions, tomatoes and mango vinaigrette. The shrimp wrap -- grilled shrimp, field greens and vegetables in balsamic vin.aigrette -- was another vibrant choice. If you like soft- shell crabs, you'll appreciate the way they're fried to a crisp turn and combined with mixed greens and spicy Japanese mayonnaise in the Tokyo roll. A rice bowl made for a substantial all-in-one meal; mine featured grilled chicken, black beans, onions, peppers, grated cheese and pico de gallo atop a bed of rice.
You won't have trouble deciding what to get for dessert, since there are none.
This is an oddly configured two-entrance eatery -- a small dining area at either end is connected by a long tableless corridor. There's a reason for the layout, Zeitlan explained, having to do with water usage and state ordinances. I'm sure it makes perfect sense -- to someone.
What should make sense to everyone is eating so well for so little money.
Reviewed by Joan Reminick, 6/18/04.