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Melange: Melange of Forest Hills offers nice variety on menu

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MELANGE

70-28 Austin St., Forest Hills

268-4524

Melange: A medley or mixture. That's how the dictionary assesses the cafe and grill on Austin Street in Forest Hills that's called, of course, Melange.

We were there last Sunday evening, drawn in by the Hamptonish-looking setting - three tables lined up along a floor to ceiling window that runs across the length of the front. The large, comfortable chairs were tan wicker with a hint of teal. Deep red day lilies (paper and that's in now) and deep purple napkins plus a votive light adds a come hither effect. Facing it was a triangular bar with three mute TVs viewable only to barsters. The ample grill room with a mirrored wall behind the cafe was pretty standard. We were lucky enough to get seated in the wicker chairs window side fronting Austin Street. Austin on a June Sunday evening is a whole other scene. Shorts are very much in evidence. The strollers are an ethnic mix. There was so much hand holding by so many couples that I thought was on the island of Maderia where every twosome strolls hand in hand.

Melange's melange was perfect for a Sunday night with above 70-degree temperatures. The menu's sandwich and burger section offers an outstanding selection. And judging from those imbibing nearby_the burger buns are special and the steak fries are heaped high.

To name a few: Grilled portobello sandwich and if you haven't ever, you're missing a lot. Grilled salmon sandwich with arugala. Chicken on a bun - a beer-battered cutlet served with lettuce and tomatoes. Sliced prime rib with sauteed mushrooms and onions on garlic bread. Seared yellow fin tuna steak sandwich with sauteed onions and peppers and wasabi dessing_his choice. The Melange special (warm goat cheese, grilled eggplant, sundried tomatoes and roasted peppers on french bread). I was contemplating that. And even a Maryland crab cake sandwich topped with mushrooms for Sunday Brunch. And there's a grilled hamburger platter. A pizzaiola burger platter with marinara sauce and mozzarella. A mushroom burger platter with melted mozzarella.

Pastas are a melange with homemade spinach and ricotta gnocchi. Linguine has garlic and oil and chopped black olives, Tortolini is coupled with mushrooms in a light cognac cream. I had cappellini Sinatra prepared "his way" with baby clams around the outside and two huge perfectly prepared shrimp center top. Marinara sauce barely coated the cappellini.

As introductions, there was our give and take of steamed mussels with garlic and white wine, a sauce so special that I used a shell to lap it up. The other give and take was Melange's chopped salad with five different lettuce greens, onion, peppers and olives tossed with a creamy dressing.

Desserts displayed an endearing twist. Chocolate mousse was a chocolate crumb crust topped with chocolate mousse then by a cake layer, and then a layer of vanilla mousse. The fruit tart had a cake base more like a Dutch fruit tart with blueberries, strawberries and such, bar shaped, not round.

The chef is Louis Agulo with an Italian father and Ecuadorian mother - the right melange for a chef in 2001. Italian is the preferred cuisine and South Americans have an uncanny knack for consistency-being able to reproduce the same dish over and over exactly-just what you want in a restaurant. Agulo worked in the same establishment in Manhattan for 14 years. And there has not been a melange of owners. Melange grill and cafe has had the same owner for thirteen.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Small Hampton-style cafe by bar. View of Austin Street strollers. Large grill room rear. Excellent sandwiches and burger platters. Melange of interesting dishes. Sunday brunch specials. Excellent service.

CHEF'S CHOICE

Melange Sampler (2-captain crunch chicken fingers, fried calamari & crispy jalapenos)...S10.95

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms (w/caramelized balsalmic vinegar)...$7.25

Seared Yellow Fin Tuna Steak Sandwich (sauteed onions & peppers w/ wasabi dressing)...S12.95

Cappellini Sinatra (prepare w/shrimp & clams)...$14.95

Chicken Capri (pan seared, topped w/ arugala, tomatoes & onions in a light vinaigrette)...$12.95

Grilled Salmon Steak ...$16.95

Rib Eye Steak...$16.95

Smoked Norwegian Salmon (served over fresh greens, topped with capers, onions, chopped egg & lemon balsamic dressing)...$9.95

Cuisine: American

Setting: Small Hampton style cafe.

Large grill

Service: Professional

Hours: L & D 7 days. Sunday brunch.

Reservations: YesDress: Casual

Credit cards: All major (except Discover)

Take-out: Yes

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