223 Main St., Farmingdale
SERVICE: Attentive, accommodating
AMBIENCE: Downtown style
ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday to Thursday 4:30 to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4:30 to 11:30 p.m., Sunday 3 to 9 p.m, closed Monday. Weekend reservations suggested, major credit cards accepted.
If they fit one more taste into Vinoco East, the sleek storefront will overflow onto Main Street.
Here’s the “global fusion” offspring of Vinoco in Mineola, committed firmly and earnestly to small plates and big flavors. Owner-chef Carlos Roman is your guide through the labyrinth dotted with tapas.
Generally, the global-fusion concept is about as effective as the United Nations on a bad day. But Vinoco East delivers with flair, even when it’s going in too many directions and turning your mouth into a roller-derby track.
At the former site of Vine & Barrel, a wine bar, you’ll be tucked in along a banquette or at one of the higher, stool-seating elevations across the dining room. A TV tuned to cooking shows competes with art of moody cityscapes to give the spot splashes of color.
The rest of the spectrum will be on your plate.
Roman excels with ceviche, the dish of raw fish cured with citrus juices, typically lime or lemon. There are four variations on the theme from the Peruvian chef, the best being the least orchestrated. That’s the day’s catch accented with lime, red onion, cilantro and imagination. Flounder is very good. He deftly puts together the ceviche tableside, with a genial showmanship usually reserved for the intricacies of Caesar salad. Things get a little dicier when, for example, Caribbean jerk salsa defines and overwhelms the ceviche.
Roman’s creations include panipuri, or Indian-style puffed pastries with assorted fillings; parfaits, which are layered meals in a glass; meat-and-cheese unions dubbed “saganaki meets tataki”; salads that translate into toppings for an arepa, stuffing for a tamale, or the ingredients for tacos; and rolls of baked tortilla rings that suggest the midpoint between quesadilla and maki sushi.
You have to work your way through it. There’s a lot going on here. All of which mandates that you immediately sample “guacahummus,” a surprisingly harmonious alliance of guacamole and hummus, ready for tortilla chips. Then, try the open-faced arepa topped with spiced, creamy chicken. Contrast it with those panipuri, especially one fully packed with feta, spinach and avocado. Skippable: panipuri combos of pork, strawberry and foie gras; or fish and shrimp with andouille, chimichurri, salsa — overwrought as they sound.
You’re better off with the tamale and the tacos, starring that creamy chicken. Several staples make appearances in different categories. Rolling along, consider the octopus-salmon-chorizo group commingling in crisp tortilla ringlets.
But the steak-and-cheese section is undone by chewy beef, harsh bourbon-barbecue sauce and strawberry-bacon salsa. Thai steak, with a zesty salsa, almost rescues the category.
Roman’s parfait-style dishes peak with mild “Peruvian yellow creamy chicken,” but dip with the feijoada-inspired mash-up of braised pork osso buco-style and beef, atop white rice and black beans seasoned with bacon. Is there anything else left in the kitchen?
Desserts keep to Vinoco East’s theme. Your choices may include a chocolate-and-tres leches roll with tangerine; or a peanut butter and cashew roll with malted chocolate. Ice cream or sorbet would be a nice finale after all the fireworks.