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Dining Out: Fly off to an island paradise in Forest Hills eatery

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Cabana Restaurant & Bar

107-10 70th Rd., Forest Hills

263-3600

On the first night of daylight savings time, a friend and I were already thinking ahead to sunny days, sandy beaches and dining al fresco. That being a bit premature, we opted for the next best thing, dinner at “Cabana,” the bustling Caribbean restaurant in the heart of Forest Hills. Several times before, I’d tried to get in for dinner, without success. Cabana takes no reservations and has no lull in the action, so, the wait can be long. Up to an hour on weekends. Once we tasted the food we knew why!

I admit I am finicky as to where I am seated in a restaurant. So when I asked our hostess for a particular table in the corner, I was dismayed at her reluctance to seat us there. She capitulated with a scowl, but the friendly demeanor of our waiter made up for her attitude, which seemed out of line with the upbeat atmosphere.

The cheerful decor that surrounded us—bright yellow walls, faux palm trees, ceiling fans, carnival masks and watercolors of village scenes—evoked in us a feeling of being in the islands. Clearly, tropical drinks were in order.

The mango margarita immediately caught my dining companion’s attention. Besides mango, margaritas are available in mouth-watering flavors of strawberry, passion fruit, guava, coconut, banana, pineapple and Piña Colada. Every flavor appealed to me, but before I could decide, our waiter mentioned that Sangria was available by the glass (a rarity). I was sold. Our drinks arrived in tumblers and were anything but skimpy. I enviously eyed my companion’s drink, angling for a taste. One sip of the delicious and refreshing margarita and I was transported to the Tiki bar of an island resort. My sangria, replete with the requisite diced, fresh fruit, was similarly appealing.

Lively Caribbean music plays in the background and as we were seated beneath a speaker, I had to strain to hear our waiter recite the specials of the day. The waitstaff at Cabana is knowledgeable of the ingredients and preparation of all dishes, having undergone training in both. I asked what most characterizes the food as Caribbean. Our waiter, without hesitation, responded, “The spices!” Among them, jerk sauce, saffron, pica pepper sauce and cilantro.

We sipped our drinks as we read through the interesting appetizers on the menu. So that I might taste an assortment of Caribbean favorites, I chose the bocadillos, a sampler platter of conch fritters, vegetable fritters, jerk chicken wings and beef patties accompanied by a tasty, light, Caribbean dipping sauce. Pica pepper sauce blended with sour cream gave it its lively orange color.

My companion ordered the coconut shrimp for his appetizer. Four jumbo shrimp, perched one atop another, arrived surrounded by crisp potato slivers, lime slices and a tropical tartar sauce made of minced fresh fruit, Caribbean spices, jalapeno and mayonnaise.

We were still working on my appetizer when the entrees arrived. Not at all because they were rushing us, but because we were determined to polish off the bocadillos, enough for at least another person.

Putting the bocadillos platter aside, we implored our waiter not to take it away as we were still enjoying them.

After wading through the chicken dishes, my companion had chosen pollo camarones, one of the specials of the day. Several large shrimp towering over two hefty chicken breasts, prepared with a red wine glaze on a generous bed of saffron rice, was set before him. He quickly dug in.

I went with the coco cabana vegetable dish for my dinner. A hearty combination of cubed potatoes, yucca, carrots, broccoli and yautia (a root vegetable) arranged around a mound of white rice which had been simmered in coconut milk. I shared his sentiments.

Asking our waiter for a dessert suggestion, he recommended the tres leche cake, much to our delight. We shared the cake square, which was a moist concoction of evaporated, whole and condensed milks, flavored with cinnamon and vanilla. Café con leche and Cubano coffee, a sweeter version of espresso, topped off our meal.

The food at Cabana is artfully served on oversized plates and the portions are large. Large enough that despite our resolve to clean our plates, we asked for a doggy bag.

Leaving the restaurant, stepping into the late sunshine of an April evening, we truly felt as buoyant and breezy as one does on a summer night, even after all the we’d eaten. So, if you’d like to travel to the islands, but can’t get further than Queens, a night at Cabana may be just the mini-vacation to fill the bill.

The Bottom Line

If you like your food spicy, this is the place for you! And given the array of chicken dishes, as well as inventive salad combinations, there is something for everyone.

CHEF’S CHOICE

Cabana Cerviche-(only served on weekends) Diced Shrimp, Calamari & steamed Lobster tail, cured with lime juice & spices, served in a large Oyster shell $17.00-perfect for sharing.

Jerk Chicken wings-Jerk Sauce fried & blackened $6.00

Salad La Playa-So American Jumbo white shrimp with scallops on a bed of grilled mixed field greens. $12.00

Churrasco-Latin skirt steak marinated for a day in fresh herbs & garlic, served on a sizzling platter-$17.00

Pastelillos-Two pastry dough turnovers filled with raspberry rice pudding, drizzled with passion fruit puree & a scoop of mango ice cream. $4.95

Hilados- coconut, mango, passion fruit & mango ice cream $2.95

Cuisine: Caribbean

Setting: Upbeat

Service: Helpful & Accommodating

Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 11-4(lunch) 4-Midnight(Dinner) Bar Open Until 1 a.m. Fri. & Sat. 11-4 (lunch) 4-1:30 AM (Dinner) Bar Open Until 2 a.m. Sunday 11-Midnight Bar Open Until 1 a.m.

Reservations: No

Location: Between Queens Blvd. & Austin Street

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Credit Cards: All major except Discover

Children: Sharing Recommended

Takeout: Yes

Off premise catering: Yes

Private parties: No

Smoking: At the Bar

Handicap accessible: Yes

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