Sangria 71

Sangria 71
(516) 246-9778, Williston Park

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If every Spanish restaurant were as good as the new Sangria 71 in Williston Park there would be more of them on Long Island. Currently the Zagat survey of the Island lists ten and about half of them are tapas specialists, not full-fledged Spanish dining rooms. To put that number into perspective: There are around 180 Italian listings and 65 Japanese ones, indicating that Spanish restaurants really are an endangered species.

Last June two Long Island brothers, José and Rosendo Fernandez Jr., who have long owned and operated a couple of noteworthy Manhattan-based Spanish restaurants (Café Espanol) purchased Willy Parkers at 71 Hillside Avenue. They’ve turned this 120 seat spot into a sometimes relaxed, sometimes frenetic hotspot that offers generous portions, affordable prices and a comprehensive menu of authentic Spanish dishes.

They have also brought executive chef Reyes Lopez with them from Manhattan to be the kitchen commander at their almost instantly popular Long Island branch.

Although their menu emphasizes tapas (there are 31 of them at prices that range from $6 to $13), it doesn’t neglect seafood (17 possibilities), meat entrées (13) or paellas, Spain’s classic saffron rice dish. There are three types of paellas available in portions for two, four or ten diners.

At our table of four, we had basic tapas, entrée, dessert dinners and three plates of tapas and dessert with no entrée. Considering the generously-portioned first courses of tapas, two of them will satisfy many, if not most diners.

Although there were many misfires in the dining room (more about that later) there were few from the kitchen. Aside from a decidedly boring plate of sautéed spinach and chickpeas ($8), the rest were all bull’s-eyes. After finishing a big pitcher of powerful classic sangria (there are seven other sangria options) we attacked two large plates of artfully fanned out cheese and cold cuts. Picoteo ($12) yielded six ingredients including cured loin and Serrano ham while triangles of Manchego cheese and aged Serrano were featured in the jamon and queso ($9). Think omelet when ordering the tortilla Española ($8), a tall Spanish frittata of eggs, potatoes and onions. Both camarones a la plancha ($9) or grilled shrimp and chorizo a la sangria ($8) produced superior versions of the expected (there was a ton of sautéed chorizo).

The number one and two tapas were the boiled, not grilled, pulpo a la gallega ($10) and the chunky, not chewy, soft pillows of octopus and dates stuffed with almond and wrapped in bacon ($8), a perfect meld of sweet and smoky. The two entrées sampled were plump, standard sea scallops ($21) and an Italian-like sauté of thin veal ($18) in a scramble of onions and mushrooms.

All four of the ethereal housemade desserts were enjoyed, including two picks: Crème brûlée ($8.50) and flan ($5) but chocoholics shouldn’t overlook the imported chocolate soufflé ($9) and the towering chocolate mousse cake ($7).

Sangria 71 isn’t a refined place of tinkling glasses, subdued voices and smooth service. When crowded it produces crashing, ear-splitting noise. Runners rarely know who ordered the food they’re delivering and don’t be surprised if you get the dishes ordered by another table. Yet this restaurant offers a welcome change of pace from so many other cookie cutter establishments.

Photo by Paul Kim / thefphoto.com

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richard jay scholem

Richard Jay Scholem practically invented the Long Island restaurant culture through 800+ reviews of the region's eateries both on radio and in print over the last 30 years. He is a former New York Times Long Island Section restaurant reviewer, has contributed to the Great Restaurants of...magazines and Bon Vivant, authored a book, aired reviews on WGSM and WCTO radio stations, served on the board of countless community and food and beverage organizations, and received many accolades for his journalism in both print and broadcast media. He is currently available for restaurant consultation. Reach him at (631) 271-3227.