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Dining Out: El Ay Si: Trendy comfort food in a very LIC setting

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To an old Queensite, the changes Long Island City is undergoing are nothing short of astonishing. After minor incursions by arty types, this gritty industrial neighborhood in transition is seeing major residential development in the form of luxury high-rises. Lying that your Long Island City address is actually in Astoria is so o-vah. With all this gentrification going on, it’s no surprise that upscale eateries are sprouting like onion grass in early spring.

El Ay Si, pronounced like the initials of its host community, is a sliver of a place on Vernon Boulevard. Its diminutive size combined with its inconspicuous exterior gives this former ground-floor railroad flat a measure of I-know-a-secret-place cachet. A quirky sense of irony is expressed by the juxtaposition of a crystal chandelier poised amidst rough hewn exposed ceiling beams and an upholstered chair and antique electric fan perched on a ledge above the kitchen. That same sensibility is revealed in the food. They bill their fare as comfort food, but it’s comfort food with a twist to be sure.

Most of their appetizers have a little bit of a kick to them. Black-eyed pea cakes, tasty leguminous hockey pucks, benefitted from a zippy application of smoky chipotle mayo. A serving of grilled Spanish chorizo had zip all its own, but still came with maple-pickled red onion, more sweet than savory. Their Caesar salad was standard issue, but decent.

Speaking of comfort food, one of the most comforting things about El Ay Si’s menu is the prices. With the exception of a dry-rubbed ribeye, none of the entrees passed the $20 mark. Sea scallops came nicely seared on a bed of sweet succotash. The succotash was rather cloying, and could have used another element to offset some of that sweetness. Wild boar shepherd’s pie was an interesting take on that Anglo-Irish pub grub standard. The mashed potato topping places it firmly in the comfort food camp, but using wild boar as the meat gives it a nice little twist.

The list of desserts here is short but very enticing. We comforted ourselves by indulging in a slab of bourbon chocolate pecan pie a la mode.

We returned for brunch a couple of weeks later. The deal is that for the price of your chosen dish, you also get a smallish bloody mary or mimosa, and coffee or tea.

Their Eggs Benny is a pair of perfectly poached eggs seated on a mound of creamed spinach over pancetta on an English muffin base. The spinach made for a pleasant variation of this brunch classic.

Their French toast with sweet glazed balsamic berries was a big letdown. The crusty slices of bread, as far as we could discern, were fried without ever having made contact with an egg. They were too hard to cut with the butter knife supplied, so we resorted to picking them up with our fingers and dipping them in the syrup. The berries would have been a nice touch, but French toast, by definition should be made with eggs. This was fried bread.

The Bottom Line

El Ay Si is a wallet-friendly place that hits the right note for the nabe. The staff is young, friendly and eager to please. That’s a winning combination.

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.

El Ay Si

47-38 Vernon Blvd.

Long Island City, NY 111O1

718-389-8781

elaysi.com

Price Range: Appetizers: $6-9; entrees: $10-25

Cuisine: Updated comfort food

Setting: Very small. Only one table will accommodate more than four

Service: Friendly, professional

Hours: Dinner: Tues.—Sun.; lunch: Tues.—Fri.; brunch: Sat.—Sun.; closed Mon.

Reservations: Recommended for parties of more than four

Alcohol: Full license

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Children: Welcome

Music: Recorded

Takeout: Yes

Credit Cards: Yes

Noise Level: Acceptable

Handicap Accessible: Yes

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