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Dining Out: Le Bistro at JFK Holiday Inn stands out amid hotel restaurants

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LE BISTRO

Holiday Inn/JFK Airport, 144-02 135th Ave., Jamaica

659-0200

On the Belt Parkway on the way to John F. Kennedy International Airport, there's a small blue sign on the right that points to "Airport Hotels." And there they are, all in a row.

Holiday Inn, entered behind a waterfall, has two restaurants, the more formal Claudine's in a Japanese garden setting, and Le Bistro, a cafe and bar opened four years ago. Le Bistro occupies a huge, sultry space with a large U-shaped bar, with a little lamp on each table. Etched glass separates it from Claudine's. And yes, there are a half-dozen TVs about, but they are not intrusive and you can watch your stock prices during lunch.

There's a light bright lobby alongside the bistro with round, light wood tables and arm chairs, where you may dine if that's your druthers.

We went for sultry with maroon cloth place mats and white paper napkins. The menu goes from light: salads and soups and sandwiches and pizzas, to the works: appetizers and entrees. Although the name is Frenchy, the menu is more American country with a dash of continental.

Our appetizers (10 greats to chose from) were stuffed clams. There were just three but they were good-sized and stuffed with a delicious all-crab mixture, not a bread crumb in sight. Mine? Shrimp le bistro - an amazing amount of shell on tiger shrimp in a tangy, Creole remoulade sauce, a most unusual sauce. It was tomato-based but had a thick, puree-like texture, which could easily be forked up. And you did want every last bit. The shrimp tasted wonderfully Southern. I conjectured they were poached in the sauce - the seasonings seemed embedded.

When the bread basket arrived it held dark, square raisin pumpernickel rolls and what looked like saltz stanger but weren't.

In keeping with my Southern bent, I had watermelon barbecue ribs - a full rack (cut up) of Missouri-style pork ribs. There was a mountain of ribs, and they were unusually meaty. I really wouldn't call it a BBQ sauce but a wonderful light, gravy-like sauce. Alongside there was a round mound of garlic mashed potato, probably with skins, and in the middle was a puddle of that watermelon BBQ gravy. Was that good! I ate the whole thing.

Her entree was the special of the day with sea bass and rice. The bass fillets were prepared and cooked to moist perfection. She commented favorably on the grilled vegetables - halved carrot and zucchini slices with broccoli flowerettes. Ditto for me.

Desserts came with a recitation of a lengthy list of American favorites. She chose the wedge of carrot cake and I the American Sundae. The sundae is a plateful! Picture a soup plate with a small, warm, moist square brownie, drizzled with chocolate sauce surrounded by three balls of vanilla ice cream, alternating with three fluffs of whipped cream. Make mine coffee-black.

It was a different scene. "You wouldn't think you were in Queens," she said. Sampling the variety of styles as well as cuisines Queens has to offer, makes dining an on-going adventure.

Le Bistro's sandwiches are hefty. Salads range from shrimp-filled avocado to the feta cheese and olive Aegean. Pizzas are 10-inch gourmet and pastas No. 4. During the week there's a New York deli buffet with turkey and roast beef being carved, and either corned beef, pastrami, ham or pork. With a soup and salad bar and beverage it's $9.95.

Hotels are famed for their lavish buffets for the holidays. At Easter, at Holiday Inn's Le Bistro and Claudine's there was a traditional Easter buffet with a specialty salad bar, main entrees, a carving station, and Easter treats and desserts - plus an appearance by the Easter bunny. Since the first seating was 11:30, waffles, omelets and French toast were included.

On Mother's Day at Claudine's, Le Bistro and the Grand Ballroom it's a buffet with champagne, and punch for the children. There's a sweet ending that includes key lime mousse and strawberry shortcake. And mom gets a rose.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Hotel dining near JFK. Different scene for Queens. Bistro cafe and bar. TVs with stock market report at lunch. Good American food. Friendly service.

CHEF'S CHOICE

Aviator's Hot Wings...$5.75

Creole Marinated Calamari...$7.95

Portifino Pizza...$8.95

Bourbon Street Blues Burger...$8.95

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad...$8.95

Fish & Chips...$14.95

Sauteed Chesapeake Crab

Cakes...$13.95

Almond Praline...$4.95

Food: American

Setting: Bistro cafe & bar

Service: Friendly

Hours: L & D 7 days

Reservations: Large group

Private parties: 10 to 100

Takeout: Yes Off-premises catering: No

Smoking: At bar

Noise level: High when crowded

Handicapped accessible: Yes

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