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Restaurante El Encuentro: Encounter good food in new Maspeth eatery

Restaurante El Encuentro

71-04 Grand Avenue

Maspeth

639-8638

Tucked between a number of small businesses on Grand Avenue, in the busy shopping district of Maspeth, is a well-hidden treasure of a restaurant. Given its upscale look and creative, yet hearty menu, it won’t be a secret for long.

A friend recently raved about the meal he had eaten in a restaurant he accidentally happened upon. Knowing his liking for Manhattan eateries, I was surprised when he told me it was in Maspeth.

“But it was like being in a Manhattan restaurant,” he insisted.

This I had to see. So on a Friday night, I asked him to join me there for dinner.

As soon as we walked in, I saw what he meant. The restaurant is sleek in appearance with mustard colored walls on one side and original brick on the other, as well as in the bar area. Decorations are minimal, aside from the shimmering “Peruvian Sun,” which ornaments an otherwise bare wall. Tables are perfectly aligned on both sides of the room, with a row running down the center. Fresh flowers complement the table settings.

Our waiter took our drink orders, both of us opting for the Sangria, which is served by the glass or by the carafe. In a base of a sweet Italian wine, it was the perfect refreshment on the unseasonably warm, April evening. Our attentive waiter saw me struggling to get to the fruit at the bottom and quickly rushed over with a spoon, offering to dole it out for me.

One of the specials of the day, Portobello Bisque, sounded tempting, but the temperature dictated that it was not a soup night. Instead, I chose the house salad which came served in a large decorative bowl with an entire avocado, cut into slices, along with tomato wedges, endive and olives, on a bed of arugula, drizzled with a light Italian dressing. For $ 5.95, this salad could serve as a summertime meal.

My companion selected the Picada El Encuentro, a cold antipasto platter, listed in the menu as having “assorted cheeses and cold cuts.” There were no cold cuts, but the cheese, Parmesan chunks and goat, was plentiful, along with the anchovies, cauliflower, carrots, and olives.

As a dinner entree, my companion chose the grilled shell steak “El Encuentro” style. It was grilled just right and accompanied by vegetables and a cognac dipping sauce.

I selected the Bracciole Al Marsala, which were two substantial pork chops marinated in rosemary, garlic oil and port wine, served with vegetables and roasted red potatoes. The unique preparation was delectable.

Several dessert selections appealed to us, but we both leaned toward the homemade custard, another word for flan, which our waiter told us was big enough to share. He was right. A large chunk of flan, a mound of whipped cream on top, garnished with fresh strawberries and strawberry puree, was set before us.

“This is the best flan I ever tasted,” declared my companion. And I had to agree. The sweet, creamy concoction was delicious.

Only open four months, the restaurant plans to expand its already tasty menu, beginning in June, to include a number of favorites such as Peruvian lobster, shrimp and fish cerviche, king crab legs, blue point oysters on the half shell and Mar-y-Tierra (South American surf and turf).

The wait staff explained that literal translation of El Encuentro is “to get together.” This is an inviting and satisfying place to do so.

The Bottom Line

The food is an intriguing mix of South American and Italian. The waiters are warm & gracious. And even if you’re not in the mood for an entire meal, it’s worth a visit for the flan alone.

CHEF’S CHOICE

Empanadas “El Encuentro” (meat or chicken)...$2.50

Mussels & Clams Pussilipo—sautéed with garlic/oil/shallots & white wine...$6.95

Lobster Paella...$18.95 for one, $29.90 for two. (Friday Night only)

Pollo A La Brasa Estilo El Encuentro—Half roasted chicken Peruvian style...$8.50

Homemade custard (flan)...$5

Homemade crepes filled with milk caramel...$6

A lunch special is also offered for $8.95 between noon and 4 p.m., which includes soup or salad, choice of entree and a glass of wine.

Cuisine: South American/Italian

Setting: Sophisticated

Service: Gracious

Hours: Closed Monday, Tues.4-11, Wed. noon-11, Thurs. noon-11, Fri. & Sat. noon-midnight, Sunday noon-10:30

Reservations: Yes

Location: Between 70th & 71st St.

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Credit Cards: Mastercard/Visa

Children: Will prepare small portions.

Takeout: Yes

Off-premise catering: Yes

Private parties: Yes

Smoking: No

Handicap accessible: Yes

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