2006-11-08 / Restaurant of the Week

EL OLIVO

21-15 31st Street, Astoria 718.932.4040
by Teresa Barile

Take the chill out of fall with the warmth of Spanish cuisine at El Olivo on 31st Street in Astoria. On a recent chilly evening, El Olivo was filled with patrons delighted with their plates of paella, spooned steaming hot from a cast iron cazuela placed tableside by the professional wait staff. Riccardo Aguayo, the charming host, swiftly mixed pitchers of his famous sangria. Given excellent Spanish and continental cuisine, a comfortable dining room and excellent service, a meal at El Olivo is a treat for all-one that won't break the bank, either, a fact noted by a party of 25 feasting at a prenuptial dinner celebration.

For appetizers, a host of traditional tapas hints at the variety that Spanish cuisine has to offer. I suggest a plate of boquerones, fresh, marinated anchovies that melt in the mouth, and taste neither fishy nor salty. Put one or two of these tiny fish on a piece of warm crusty bread with some of the hand chopped salsa that comes with

this dish and you'll be in for a unique, delicious treat. A small plate of cured Serrano ham and manchego cheese with olives provides a nice counterpart to the taste of the sea. One of our favorite starters is shrimp ajillo, plump, tender shrimp sizzling in a robust garlic sauce that tastes best when soaked up with bread ($8.50). This dish can be ordered as a satisfying main course as well. Stuffed sweet peppers are filled with crabmeat salad and served chilled. Another special tapa is pulpo a la gallega, a warm stew of tender octopus prepared with delicate spices. Mussels steamed with garlic, clams casino and stuffed mushrooms are also quite popular. You'll also enjoy one of their satisfying soups, such as sopa de mariscos, a hearty seafood soup brimming with shrimp and clams in a delicious broth.

El Olivo purchases only the freshest fish and seafood and prepares it in a number of delightful ways. Fillet of sole with a light, lemon sauce with capers makes for a light and satisfying meal. Fillet of red snapper is similarly prepared. Classic shrimp and rice or grilled shrimp with sea salt are two other house favorites.

Paella, the most famous dish of Spain, combines chicken, sausage and seafood with lots of saffron-infused rice and peas for a hearty autumn meal. For only a few dollars more, you can add lobster to this heavenly combination. Fresh lobster is on the menu every day, and can be prepared any way you like.

Several chicken dishes are available. One of my favorites is chicken Castellana, a French-cut chicken breast in a light, lemon sauce with artichoke hearts. Chicken estremena is prepared with smoky chorizo sauce, onions and peppers. Arroz con pollo, a traditional Spanish dish combines tender, boneless chicken with rice and smoky chorizo sausage ($14.25). Fork tender chicken Francese will melt in your mouth, as will tender chicken breast with garlic sauce. Main dishes come with a nice house salad and choice of rice or El Olivo's hand sliced fried potatoes that keep us coming back for more. Freshly sautéed green vegetables will complete your dinner.

Meat diners will delight in tender filet mignon, available with or without mushroom sauce, broiled shell steak cooked to order or a hefty veal chop, butterflied and stuffed with two cheeses. Veal Sevillana is sautéed with onions and mushrooms.

Besides the great Spanish cuisine, one of the best things about El Olivo is the expert, friendly service. Orlando and the crew treat everyone like royalty, and I love how all the courses are served from a rolling cart covered in crisp, white linens. What a nice touch, along with the fact that you'll never feel rushed here. All entrees can be prepared for two people at a nominal charge.

Linger after your repast with a glass of port, a traditional after dinner wine from Portugal. Flan, baked custard with a sweet caramelized sugar glaze, makes for a satisfying dessert. Fresh fruit sorbets, chocolate mousse cake and creamy rice pudding round out the dessert menu. Café con leche, the Spanish version of cappuccino, is served steaming hot. Coffee at El Olivo is also flavored with various liqueurs such as Kahlua and Tia Maria.

El Olivo is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, with lunch specials from $8.95. Visit El Olivo and make any night a fiesta. Weekend reservations are suggested and credit cards are accepted. Buen provecho!

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