2002-04-10 / Restaurant of the Week

Restaurant Of The Week

Savana Mexican Grill Will Spice Up Your Life
By Teresa Barile

Of The Week

This festive, upscale Mexican eatery opened about six months ago and is causing quite a stir on the quiet side of Astoria, 20th Avenue near Steinway Street. From the moment you walk through the doors, you'll be warmly greeted by the friendly staff and literally warmed by a cozy fireplace in the bar area. Feel free to stop in after work for a tasty margarita, served straight up, frozen or flavored with sweet strawberries. A selection of beers from Mexico and cocktails are available, as well as fruity sangria and bottles of wine.

The spacious dining room features wood floors and pretty peach colored table cloths and colorful murals. Traditional Mexican music fills the air. On Friday evenings, a live mariachi band serenades with sweet, romantic songs. The menu includes classic Mexican dishes as well as updated dishes influenced by the ancient traditions of the Aztec and Mayan Indians. The appetizers are phenomenal, and I certainly will be back to sample the ones I missed.

Start off with an order of Savana's homemade guacamole, made tableside, using the freshest avocado, onions, tomatoes and herbs. Mixed in a big clay bowl, this guacamole is a treat when scooped up with warm tortilla chips. Homemade salsa is great too. The ceviche Cozumeleno tastes as if it just came out of the sea. Flaky white fish is marinated in lime juice, cilantro, red onion and secret spices to deliver a unique, light, flavorful appetizer with a long history ($8.50). Chorizo al tequila is sliced Spanish sausage sautéed in a light tequila sauce ($7.95). Botana Savana for two is a sampling of quesadillas, nachos and flautas, ideal for sharing. Crunchy Caesar salad or avocado salad with slices of orange and peppery dressing will also start a meal nicely. Try the homemade chicken soup too.

As the name suggests, Savana Mexican Grill specializes in tender grilled meat prepared in traditional ways. You'll love the carne asada, a tender skirt steak, grilled to your liking and served with grilled sweet peppers and onions. A cheese enchilada topped with a drizzle of mole sauce accompanies this dish, ($16.95). A hefty shell steak, served with a handmade pastry topped with refried beans and shredded cheese is also available. Cochinita is tender pork loin that has been marinated in a blend of Mexican herbs and spices, topped with bell peppers and onions and served in a banana leaf to seal in all the wonderful juices ($14.95). A marinated chicken breast can be prepared in the same way if preferred. Of course, traditional tacos al carbon and fajitas are available. In both cases, the tender steak or chicken has been grilled on the fire and sliced thin so you can combine it with grilled peppers, onions, guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream. For the fajitas, a basket of warm, flour tortillas is brought to your table with plenty to go around. Enchiladas and burritos, filled with either chicken, cheese or refried beans are old favorites.

A number of fish and seafood dishes round out the menu, with special kudos for the filet isla mujeres. This flaky, fresh perch is sautéed with gentle spices and coconut milk, sprinkled with cuts of asparagus. Try the mixed seafood in either a green or red sauce. All dishes are served piping hot and beautifully presented with colorful garnish and a generous helping of Mexican rice and beans.

Savana makes wonderful paella for two, a classic treat from Spain, with lots of shrimp, clams, lobster, mussels, scallops, sausage and chicken (well worth the wait). There's even a kid's menu for just $4.95. Desserts range from sublime flan to decadent deep-fried ice cream. We loved the bunuelos, crisp triangles of pastry drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon.

Owner Jose Estrella and congenial manager Erik Alaerts invite diner’s to visit Savana Mexican Grill seven days a week for lunch, dinner or drinks. A special menu offers a complete lunch for just $7.50, including a cup of soup, main course and a soda all served quickly so patrons can get back to their jobs. Savana will also deliver in the vicinity of the restaurant. Private parties are possible, with accommodations for up to 70 people.

An outdoor patio is being planned for the impending warm weather, adding an even more festive atmosphere. Don't forget the mariachi band on Friday nights, and see Savana's ad for weeknight specials. Monday nights offer free appetizers with dinner, Tuesday and Thursday are fajita nights and Wednesday, take 15 percent off your dinner bill. There's plenty of street parking in this quiet part of Astoria, so come and relax, eat, drink and sing the night away at Savana Mexican Grill.

Savana Mexican Grill

40-19 20th Ave., Astoria


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