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Dining Out: Romanian Harmony delights with old world flavors

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Harmony

36-23 Queens Blvd.

Sunnyside

786-8383

The ambiance may be post-Chinese but it’s a premier “hangout” for the Romanian community. And well it might be. Harmony in Sunnyside is a family (Carasimu) business with chef/owner Cornell making all the decisions. The food is true Romanian and wonderful. As for the decor, it’s stunning.

I was surprised to find Harmony huge, opulent, mirrored, gilded and absolutely stunning, although the tall-backed elegant wood dining chairs have an Oriental air about them. All the Carasimus did when they bought the Chinese restaurant site was replace the Buddha statues with Romanian maiden clones in peasant dress.

Be advised, the Romanian wait staff is charming but not, quite yet, bilingual.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, there’s a singer. Romanian melodies emanate from a piano on a raised platform. The hostess, Michael, is long, very long legged, dressed American in stylishly short attire—and gorgeous.

Harmony welcomes you with aperitive reci (cold) and aperitive calde (hot).

The list is tastefully long, including caviar, shrimp cocktail, chicken livers with onion and herbs, fried calamari, mozzarella and zucchini. There is a dining opportunity to have the national dish—mamaliga, cornmeal topped with shreds of cheese and a dollop of sour cream. This was glorious eating. Then there was a smoked fish platter (appetizer number two), a delight with curls of smoked salmon and tidbits of mackerel. The eggplant spread made a delicious salad course.

I do wish we had tried the tripe soup, but this was lunch. Come to think of it, it would have made a perfect lunch with one of Harmony’s tempting desserts. We were seated next to the showcase with one of each displayed on top ever so temptingly.

Pork stew was my dining companion’s entree choice. It had a slightly sharp edge from the seasoning which we deduced was paprika. Mamaliga was the accompanim­ent—half plain, half with sour cream. I was delighted to be able to order sweetbreads, a not-often-seen item. And these were especially good — sliced and sautéed with a texture that was perfect. (Harmony also serves brains.) The thinny, thin-thin shoestring potatoes with a squeeze of lemon went well with them.

At Harmony there’s a separate listing of muraturi with some pickled favorites, including castraveti murati (pickles), gogonele (pickled green tomato) and gogosari (pickled peppers). When dining Romanian, eat as the Romanians do — the pickles are delicious.

And now desserts. One lady, a special cook, makes them. They include clatite (crepes), tort de mere (an apple cake which looked wonderful but was sold out when I ordered, and diplomat (fruit in gelatin, cake and whipped cream). My companion ordered the diplomat and our version was pineapple. They also serve amannina (chocolate cake), profiterol (tiny cream puffs with ice cream and savarina (a light, moist ring cake like a baba). I loved my takeout piece of ora 12 — translated to 12 o’clock. It is chocolate cake with whipped cream. There is also strudel, dobos (chocolate cake) and excelent (another chocolate cake). When my choice was sold out the hostess suggested papanasi. Thank you very much! This is the traditional fried doughnuts (two) covered with sour cream plus a dot of jelly on each. They were a delight. Do try them.

We were surprised but delighted with Turkish coffee which came in American coffee cups served between entree and dessert — an intermezzo.

I was told, “Cornell, at the age of 12, learned his craft, then practiced it in Germany, France and England. He had three different restaurants in Sunnyside, then opened Harmony. He is also a good husband and a good father.” Can’t vouch for that, but I know I like Harmony from style to food.

The Bottom Line

“In” dining spot for Romanians. Impressively large, dramatic decor, Romanian statues. Wonderful desserts (savarina, crepes, profiterol, diplomat). Romanian favorites from stuffed cabbage to mamaliga (cornmeal with shredded feta and sour cream) to mititei (Romanian grilled sausages). Tall cups of Turkish coffee. Nice “little English” service.

Chef’s Choice

Peste afumat (smoked fish platter)...$3.99

Zinete (eggplant spread)...$3.99

Mamaliga (cornmeal served with feta cheese and sour cream)...3.99

Pastrav (grilled boneless trout)...$7.99

Mititei (Romanian grilled sausages)...$7.99

Sarmale (stuffed cabbage)...$7.99

Papanasi (fried doughnuts with sour cream and jelly)...$3.5O

Savarina (light ring cakes like baba au rum)...$3.50

Cuisine: Romanian

Setting: Supersized. Dramatic. Romanian peasant statues

Service: With “little English”

Hours: L & D 6 days. Closed Mon.

Reservations: Yes

Location: Queens Blvd. at 39th Place

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Credit cards: Cash only

Children: Share

Smoking: Smoking & non smoking sections

Music: Piano. Romanian songs Fri.-Sun.

Noise level: Moderate Fri.-Sun.

Handicap access: Yes

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