16 W. Jericho Tpke, Huntington Station
As the American flag was going up over Havana for the first time in 50 years, Rincon Criollo, an authentic Cuban restaurant, was opening on Jericho Turnpike in Huntington Station. Although not as monumental as the embargo lift on the Caribbean island-nation, it is nevertheless noteworthy because Cuban food is a rarity on Long Island. Rincon is a branch of the Queens original and by my counting, only the third local Cuban restaurant.
It’s a small, noisy, no reservations spot of 12 tables covered with checkered oilcloth. Family pictures, many taken in Cuba, cover the walls. The limited, albeit gradually expanding, menu is in Spanish and English. A warm, welcoming staff provides friendly explanations to diners and only a few entrées surpass the $20 mark. And the place virtually explodes during renditions of Happy Birthday: a loud, recorded version of the song fills the space while the owner, with blinking lights on his face, hat dances through the dining room holding a cake.
Considering there are so few opportunities to sample Cuban dishes it’s not surprising to hear diners question, “What is Cuban food?” It’s a distinctive variant of Latin American fare hinging on codfish fritters, chorizo, tamales, ropa vieja, Cubano sandwiches, chicken cutlet boiled in garlic sauce, fried sweet plantains and most of all black beans and rice.
The restaurant’s tamal Cubano (Cuban tamale) is made with a mellow corn masa and stuffed with roast pork ($3). The frituras de bacalao (two codfish fritters) boast a crisp crust filled with assertive fish ($3). Chorizo ($6.95) is probably the best-known appetizer to American diners and there’s plenty of it in this starter. The entremes Rincon Criollo is like Cuban antipasto that includes slices of ham and cheese, olives, pulled pork, pork slices and more ($4.95).
An entrée of Ropa Vieja, tender shredded beef in a light tomato sauce ($15.95), is another recognizable dish to many Americans. So too is a good
rendition of shrimp scampi, which sports a delicate white wine sauce ($15.95). Less familiar but equally desirable are the moist, breaded chicken cutlets in garlic sauce ($13.95).
Unfortunately, side orders didn’t fare quite as well. There was too much rice and too few beans in the rice and beans side ($2.50). The cassava with garlic sauce ($2.50) was bland and the black beans ($4) were fine but almost drowned in an over-abundance of sauce. I can’t comment on the bread basket because we got butter but not bread, but I did find the delicious tres leche cake ($5) to be a best of breed pick worthy of capping the meal.