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Dining Out: Restaurant on ‘the rise’ to serve Latin cuisine

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LA VUELTA

10-43 44th Drive

Long Island City

361-1858

La Vuelta Bistro Latino, open just since June, promises: "A new twist on Latin Cuisine in the heart of Long Island City."

I found it to be a little gem. La Vuelta, two blocks west of high-rise Citibank, translates to "the return" or "the rise."

And the neighborhood is doing just that, thank you. It's the numero uno restaurant for Eliah Batas who has lived in L.I.C. for 16 years and been involved with family restaurants for 12. "That's where I got to know lots of Latinos and learned to speak Spanish," he said.

La Vuelta is his answer to the many requests over the years for Latin food. The chef is Colombian and serves forth a cuisine that reflects Argentina and Mexico as well as flavors from all different areas of Latin America.

As you drive up to La Vuelta at dusk (or walk the two blocks from the #7 train or a block and a half from the E or F), you'll see the lights of New York at the end of 44th Drive. Look over your shoulder and you'll see Citibank's offices and apartments lighting up. Pretty neat, I'd say.

In true bistro fashion, French doors stretch across the front. A small bar is on the left as you enter the narrow room, with more seating at the rear. You'll like the simple tin ceiling, ceramic floor, brick wall and Mexican hanging lights of tin - rustic, low key, appealing. Come summer, there are 40 more seats in the garden patio.

When we visited, the food was excellent in many special ways. The flavors did not overwhelm, they enchanted. For Latin cuisine neophytes, La Vuelta can be the perfect introduction. Informed, bilingual, friendly service is part of its charm.

Usually I let my dining companion choose. Then I order to round out the menu with selections that provide a balanced review. But tonight I put dibs on camaran vestido: whole shrimp in lime broth. It did not disappoint - four shrimp in shell in an exquisite lime broth with a fresh lime wedge.

He ordered guacamole, coarsely mashed, accompanied by great chips - white cornmeal triangles, freshly deep fried. And that added another dimension to the goodness of the avocado dip. We munched as we sipped red wine sangria. Made with a cabernet and merlot mix plus some tequila, brandy, apples and oranges, it had a unique, gutsy, deep garnet hue. (And if you order just a glass, not a carafe, there's a surprise - a maraschino cherry which in this case doesn't taste out of place.)

Bon bon de polio, fried chicken pops with tomato salsa, are not to be missed. A small drumstick, skinless, turned inside out, forming a white meat lolly pop. Three make a fun/yum dinner intro.

The waiter recommended the Argentina skirt steak. It was a well-browned piece, good sized, heaped with tomato salsa accompanied with a drift of homemade mashed potatoes. It was pink, tender and moist. Great flavor.

I went tropical with a steamed red snapper filet bundled in a banana leaf. Exciting. The jumbo banana pack swamped the plate with banana-like, long, plantains towering over it. Unwrap the pack and you find the snapper filet bathed in flavor.

This made us decide to share a wedge of banana cake for dessert. And I had a cup of Cuban coffee. By all means try the Cuban coffee - it's espresso with milk and condensed milk. The condensed milk gives it a marvelously rich, creamy quality.

Out back, underneath a 30-foot shade tree, is the large, 40-seat rustic patio. In warm weather, it is a popular spot. (All the high-rise Citibank folks probably summer there.) Logically, I should have waited until late spring to review La Vuelta, but the dining was too good to deprive you of the possibility. Let me reiterate: It's a gem of a place.

As we left, my dining companion mused, "In all respects, here's a place that says, 'Welcome, enter and enjoy.'"

I couldn't have said it better.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Latin bistro. Excellent cuisine. Flavors from different areas of Latin America. Appealing rustic, low key ambiance. Informed, friendly, bilingual service. Large rustic patio in warm weather.

CHEF'S CHOICE

Quesadilla Especial (Loin of pork,

chicken, shrimp, spinach, mushroom

or sun-dried tomato )...$5

Cameron Vestido (whole shrimp in a

lime broth)...$7

Argentine Skirt Steak...$13

Paella de Manscos...$17

Arroz con Pollo (chicken sofrito with

Spanish rice)...$9

Esalada Espinacca (spinach salad

with herb salsa)...$5

La Vuelta's own chocolate mousse

cake with caramel sauce)...$3

Flan...$3

Food: Latin cuisine

Setting: Bistro with Latin beat

Service: Bilingual, informed, friendly

Time: D 7 days. L Mon-Sat

Reservations: Six or more

Parking: Street

Location: West of Citi Bank high-rise

Dress: Casual

Credit cards: All major (except

Discover)

Children: Accommodate

Private parties: To 60 (To 100 with

patio)

Takeout: Will deliver

Outdoor dining: Large, rustic patio

Noise level: Quiet

Smoking: Bar, Rear section

Handicapped access: One low step

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