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Dining Out: Nick’s Cafe: Modest but tasty Greek fare in Forest Hills

It was Nick Sarris’ lifelong dream to own his own restaurant. He never made it, but now his son Rob, along with his partner Mario Savva, are doing it for him. Nick’s Bistro, the new eatery on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills is named in his honor. According to Rob Sarris, these two Astoria boys have modest but focused aspirations for their venture. “We don’t want to have the best food in the world,” he explained, “we just want to have good food and make people comfortable.” No hype. Sounds promising.

The décor is a mega-leap from the Spartan surroundings favored by their Mexican predecessor. This space, which was formerly done in early packing crate, is warm and inviting, with comfy banquettes and cute, gravel-filled glass candle sconces on the wall. The plate-glass windows sport a fall-themed, handpainted mural that we assume will change with the seasons.

True to their roots, the menu mainly relies on Greek favorites happily coexisting with a selection of wraps, panini and pasta dishes. And, of course, burrrgers. What would casual dining be without burgers? In this case, alongside the predictable, you can opt for a Kobe beef burger or a crabcake “burger.”

We began our meal with a special appetizer, salmon croquettes, which apart from not being identifiably Greek could have been their signature dish. Croquettes, in general, are a homey dish, often done with leftovers, but when well executed, as they were here, can be something special. Rather than being mashed into homogenous glop, the potatoes and fish in the filling were coarsely chopped, allowing them to retain their individual textures. The croquettes were lightly crumbed, and very un-greasy for something fried. Unpretentious but perfect. We were glad that we didn’t submit to our natural inclination to order Greek dips, as several excellent ones arrived at our table unbidden, along with warm fresh pita bread.

A Nick’s Pick salad, a traditional leafless salad comprised of tomato, cucumber, onions, feta and olives, was sharably generous. The feta and olives were respectable, but unfortunately the hard tasteless tomatoes only served to remind us that summer is over.

A filet mignon kebab made a luxurious upgrade from this Greek restaurant standard. Lemon potatoes were just right — a little crispy on the exterior, and without resistance inside. We ordered an extra side, grilled vegetables, which were every bit as flawless as the potatoes.

The disappointment of the evening was a pasta dish — black linguini with seafood in an ouzo ragu [sic] sauce. On the plus side, the seafood was plentiful — shrimp, calamari, mussels and scallops — and the ouzo in sauce gave it an interesting hint of licorice. The problem was that both the pasta and the seafood were overcooked, making the former too soft, and the latter a little tough. We’ve had much worse in our day, but not wanting to add to our caloric intake with something we didn’t love, we left most of the dish untouched.

It turned out to be an object lesson in this establishment’s determination to please its customers. Our waitress inquired as to whether there was anything wrong with the dish. We answered honestly that we found it over done. When we received our bill, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that they did not charge us for the black linguini. Now that’s good customer relations.

Another dollop of good will was a complimentary serving of baklava. Surprisingly, there is no Greek coffee — we settled for an espresso.

The Bottom Line

Nick’s Bistro seems to be achieving just what it set out to do. It’s a nice neighborhood joint with good food and service, comfortable surroundings, reasonable prices, and a sincere desire to keep its patrons happy. It is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfoodie@aol.com.

Nick’s Bistro

104-20 Metropolitan Ave.

Forest Hills, NY 11375

718-544-6425

www.nicksbistro.com

Price Range: Appetizers: $6-13, entrees: $14-24,

Cuisine: Mostly Italian with a Greek accent

Setting: Small, comfortable

Service: Professional and accommodating

Hours: Lunch and dinner daily

Reservations: Optional

Alcohol: Full bar

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Children: Welcome

Music: Recorded

Takeout: Yes

Credit Cards: Yes

Noise Level: Acceptable

Handicap Accessible: Yes

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