2008-10-22 / Restaurant of the Week

EL BOQUERON

31-01 34th Avenue Astoria • 718.956.0107 www.elboquerontapas.com

E ven if you can't go to Spain, you can enjoy the breadth of the culinary delights of Spain at El Boqueron Tapas Bar and Restaurant. Spain has finally gained international recognition for its superior cuisine and El Boqueron specializes in

Spanish "tapas", which are small dishes of

olives, ham, seafood, meat or vegetables that are perfect for sampling and sharing. El Boqueron is conveniently located on the corner of 31st Street and 34th Avenue in Astoria, just a short walk from the N and W trains, and a perfect spot to meet family, friends or colleagues for a memorable lunch or dinner, seven days a week.

The cozy, petite dining room is elegant, yet very comfortable, with some tables topped with hand-painted tiles reminiscent of Sevilla, in southern Spain. Owners and brothers, Miller and Gonzalo, oversee every detail of the kitchen and dining room to ensure a pleasant meal where you will feel very welcome. "Mr. G", as he is best known, is the executive chef and whips up some magic in the kitchen for all to enjoy.

Miller mixes up an excellent pitcher of sangria, or you may choose among your favorite wines or cocktails from the handsome bar. Complimentary olives are brought to your table and everyone should start with a tapa of "boquerones," for which the restaurant is named. Ubiquitous in Spain, these tiny, fresh-from-the-sea anchovies are marinated in garlic, olive oil and vinegar and served on a slice of crusty bread that allows them to melt in your mouth. Fresh mussels are marinated in Chardonnay vinaigrette, which begs to be soaked up with bread ($6.95). Jamon Serrano is cured ham, a veritable national treasure in Spain, best eaten with bread and Manchego cheese. Spanish potato salad "alla Russa" is made with red bliss potatoes and house made mayonnaise ($6.95). White asparagus are a delicacy in Spain, and El Boqueron serves them with white wine vinaigrette ($8.95). Tender hearts of artichokes are prepared in similar fashion. Another "must have" is the tortilla Española, an omelet with potatoes, eggs and onion.

Hot tapas include grilled whole shrimp with sea salt, served on wooden skewers, still in their shell to retain their flavor and juices. Calamari is prepared Spanish style in a flavorful, garlicky sauce. Plump shrimp in aromatic garlic sauce is one of my favorites, as is pulpo alla Gallega. This tender octopus is cooked slowly with potatoes, herbs and spices and offers a unique taste from Northern Spain ($9.95). Mr. G. prepares a "canapé" of sautéed woodland mushrooms and tender rings of calamari, served on a wedge of bread. Though you won't find this special treat on the menu, just ask for it and the friendly waiter will bring it to you. You can even watch Mr. G demonstrate the preparation of this dish as well as a fabulous roasted red pepper dish at www.youtube.com. Simply click on "videos" and type "el boqueron tapas" in the "Search" box. You'll be in for a treat!

El Boqueron also has a nice variety of entrées that includes fresh fish, seafood and savory meat. That evening, one of the specials was baby rack of lamb cooked to perfection and topped with green peppercorn sauce for a complementary kick. Sides of their famous fried potatoes and fresh vegetables complete this beautiful plate. The day's catch was fresh, flaky sea bass with vegetables and a tangy balsamic reduction. Paella Valenciana, a national dish, can be prepared for one person, and is brimming with tender chicken, seafood, peas and saffron-infused rice. Of course, two or more can share this hearty dish which goes well with refreshing sangria. Pan seared scallops are prepared with extra virgin olive oil and garlic and a verdant asparagus sauce ($23.95). Another classic dish of tender veal cutlets is prepared with wild mushrooms and a touch of sherry wine.

After dinner drinks and dessert wines are part of every dinner in Spain. A premiere wine-producing country, Spain produces robust reds, refreshing whites and sweet dessert wine to go with one of their fabulous creations. "Crema Catalan" with a baked caramelized glaze is the most popular dessert, served flaming, thanks to a touch of Grand Marnier that is ignited table-side. Mr. G.'s flan de mocca is sweet and creamy, with a touch of coffee flavor and his apple tart is layered with paperthin slices of apples in a delicate crust.

If you can't visit Spain, then visit El Boqueron for the tapas and dishes of Iberia. El Boqueron is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, from noon until 10pm Mondays through Thursdays, noon until 11pm on Fridays, 3PM to 11PM on Saturdays and 2pm to 10`pm on Sundays. Arrange a private event at El Boqueron for up to 60 people. The food is excellent, the service is professional and the ambience is warm and inviting. Olé!

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