169 Commack Rd, Commack
(631) 486-8848 | cafemendoza.com
There are only two Argentinean restaurants on Long Island and Hugo Garcia (along with Fabio Machado) owns both of them. Yes, there are so-called “Argentina steak houses” (that rarely use Argentinean beef ) and a casual empanada spot or two, but we’re talking about restaurants with full Argentinean menus.
The exuberant, affable Garcia is the genuine article who is living his dream. He is a born host from the city of Mendoza, the unofficial capital of Argentinean wine country. And that’s the name of his newest restaurant, Café Mendoza in Commack.
His lively, shiny new venture opened in mid-February and features a vast mural of wine bottles, non-stop soccer games on an Argentinean television channel, a blue back-lit bar, a pressed tin ceiling and artwork of polo players and flamenco dancers.
Dinners begin with an amuse that’s one of the night’s best dishes: a mix of breaded bay scallops, plump spinach gnocchi in a superlative shiitake mushroom cream sauce with a touch of truffle oil. Sop up the remaining cream sauce with a hunk of the restaurant’s warm, crusty bread.
After that it’s up to you to create a meal from a menu dominated by a grab bag of small plates and a few traditional entrées. Choose carefully and leave satisfied. A wise first stop is the sashimi-like tuna carpaccio, two thin, tender slices of tuna enhanced by avocado, seaweed, black rice and ginger ($14). Empanadas ($3 each) are a reasonable next pick for light eaters and the vibrantly seasoned beef is recommended. Slightly bland garbanzos enlivened by slices of spicy Spanish sausage ($8) offer a possible safe landing for those seeking the familiar. The more adventurous should target the braised pork belly ($16) imaginatively rendered with dates, figs and roasted sweet potatoes in a lip-smacking port wine reduction. Pulpo, or sautéed octopus, with Spanish smoked paprika, scallions, cannellini beans and boiled potatoes ($16) is its equal.
The two main entrées sampled were an unexciting non-Argentinean chicken Milanese ($25) and a towering pork chop encrusted with pistachios and accompanied by a mash of bacon, dates, figs, asparagus and sweet potatoes. Also non-Argentinean, yet too outstanding to pass up, was the juicy, tasty Black Angus burger with crisp French fries that can be jazzed up with bacon, cheese and a fried egg ($15, $3 per extra item). Wash it all down with some of Mendoza’s good red sangria ($12 glass, $29 pitcher).
The two desserts to remember are a more than respect- able molten chocolate cake ($12) and an even better Balcarce ($12), a softball-size meringue snowball that harbors peaches, fresh fruit and dulce de leche at its core.