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Dining Out: Cafe Salamanca spices up Jackson Heights

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Cafe Salamanca

79-05 Northern Blvd.

Jackson Heights

458-2446

In today’s often pretentious world of restaurants, where rudeness and inferior service sometimes pass for normal, Cafe Salamanca, is a breath of fresh air. After a stressful day, a friend and I headed to Jackson Heights for dinner and to unwind. Famished as we were, we worried that finding a parking space in this bustling area might prove difficult. It was providence indeed when we immediately found a spot.

Entering the restaurant, Justo, our host, and his staff of professional and accommodating waiters greeted us warmly, making us feel certain we’d come to the right place.

Cafe Salamanca, named after a small city in Spain northwest of Madrid, is a charming place. The white stucco walls are adorned by paintings representative of Spain. A large painting of the Santiago De Compostela Cathedral in Galicia serves as an anchor, among the smaller works, depicting Flamenco dancers and bull fighters. Baskets of flowers and plants hang from the ceiling.

Our waiter showed concern as to our seating preference, then promptly took our drink orders. Along with our glasses of robust Spanish Wine, bottled in Barcelona, a dish with three of the plumpest, freshest mussels we’d seen in a long while, bathed in a delectable vinaigrette dressing, was served complimentary, to each of us. My companion gobbled his up saying, “I don't even like mussels, but these are great!” Quite an endorsement!

To quell our hunger, we each reached for a toasty roll from the bread basket. As I buttered my roll, my knife dropped to the ground. Instantaneously, our waiter was at my side, proffering another.

The freshness of the mussels made me decide on the “Mussels in a green sauce” as my appetizer. And was I glad I did. A plate, heaped high with more of the same fresh, plump mussels that we had sampled earlier, arrived bathed in a delicious marinade of garlic, oil, white wine, flour and parsley. My companion selected the house salad and our waiter graciously offered to substitute the vinaigrette dressing we had enjoyed on the mussels, for the light Italian dressing with which it came. The perfect complement to the dish of asparagus stalks, Spanish olives, tomato wedges and artichoke hearts.

I perused the menu, which listed a varied selection of meat, fish and chicken entrees, but my heart was set on the Paella. My companion, a chicken lover, was looking forward to the garlic chicken, a spicier version of Chicken Scarpariello.

Before long, our dinners arrived, elegantly presented on a serving cart.

“I love my chicken. I’m coming back for this again,” declared my companion, after one bite.

I felt the same way about my paella, a large serving of yellow rice, chock full of those wonderful mussels, as well as clams, chicken hunks, and Spanish sausage.

As we ate, Carlos Nunez, who entertains on Saturdays, made his way to the small bandshell in the corner of the room. Picking up his guitar, he began to strum and serenade the diners with lovely, Spanish folk songs. At a nearby table, a dozen elegantly dressed patrons celebrating an anniversary sang along, swaying to the music.

We then noticed a stream of children, the girls angelically dressed in white, filing out from a separate room.

“Must be Holy Communion,” we said in unison. Sure enough, Cafe Salamanca had just hosted its third Communion dinner of the day, in its lovely party room, which contains its own bar and can easily accommodate 60.

Relaxed, enjoying the music and sipping the last of our wine, we were in no hurry to leave this happy place, which had taken our minds off the stress of the day. Coffee and dessert were surely in order.

American coffee, espresso and cappuccino are offered, but what we both craved was the Caffe Salamanca, a heavenly blend of coffee, brandy, Kahlua and whipped cream.

Desserts are limited, and I admit a fondness for flan, so I opted for the creamy caramel custard, a staple Spanish dessert. My friend “only wanted to taste” my Flan, but spying the strawberry cheesecake served to another diner, he expressed interest.

“I’ll order that the next time I come here.”

Overhearing his comment, Justo graciously offered to let us sample a piece. Within minutes, he brought over a thick slice of cheesecake for us to taste. Impressed by his generosity, we both agreed that such a thoughtful gesture, in addition to good food, is what makes a restaurant stand out and inspires diners to return. Concern for your dining pleasure is not just a buzz word for the staff of Justo. They really do care.

The Bottom Line

Good food in a soothing atmosphere served by a courteous, caring wait staff. And if you’re planning a party, Cafe Salamanca has the perfect room.

Chef's Choice

Spanish Ham with Olives...$7.25

Stuffed Mushrooms (with a shrimp, scallop & bread crumb filling)...$6.75

Veal Salamanca (in a mushroom sauce)...$19.75

Rack of Lamb (Broiled chops served with rice)...$18.50

Rum cake...$3.50

Flan...$3

Cuisine: Spanish

Setting: Comfortable

Service: Warm & Professional

Hours: Mon.-Thurs noon-11, Fri. noon to midnight, Sat. 1-midnight, Sun.1-11

Reservations: Yes

Location: Between 70th & 71st St.

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Credit Cards: Mastercard­/Visa/Amer­ican Express

Children: Will prepare small portions.

Takeout: Yes

Off premise catering: Yes

Private parties: Yes

Smoking: At the bar

Handicap accessible: Yes

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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