2009-04-22 / Restaurant of the Week

Celebrate Life At...El Olivo

Life is a fiesta at El Olivo on 31st Street in Astoria. This cozy neighborhood restaurant serves classic Spanish and continental cuisine and fantastic sangria, wine and cocktails in a very friendly environment. Owner Riccardo Aguayo greets everyone warmly and mixes up pitchers of red or white sangria and refreshing margaritas and more, while head waiter Orlando provides excellent service with a smile. Indeed a meal at El Olivo is a treat for all, and the prices are reasonable.

Appetizers, or "tapas" are a big part of Spanish cuisine and these small plates allow you to taste the variety of dishes in this fine cuisine. You can start your meal with some of these appetizers, or order a few and make a whole meal of them. One of El Olivo's signature tapas is shrimp ajillo. Plump, tender shrimp are sizzling in a robust garlic sauce that tastes best when soaked up with bread ($8.95). You can also order this dish as a satisfying main course. Stuffed mushrooms are savory caps filled with seasoned bread crumbs and garlic and go well with grilled Spanish sausage called chorizo. Another special dish is pulpo Olivo's, a warm stew of sublimely tender octopus, cooked with tomato, peppers, onions and delicate spices. Mussels steamed with garlic and clams casino are also quite popular. You'll also enjoy one of their satisfying soups such as Galician soup, heady garlic soup or a special sopa de mariscos, a hearty seafood soup brimming with shrimp and clams in a delicious broth.

Entrées are prepared to order for maximum flavor, so relax over your appetizers and a glass of sangria or a smooth tempranillo while your meal is prepared. The iconic dish of Spain, paella, combines chicken, sausage and seafood with lots of saffron-infused rice and peas for a satisfying meal. For a few dollars more, you can add lobster to this delicious dish, which is prepared and served in a heavy metal pot called a cazuela. El Olivo is one of the few restaurants I know that still serves table-side from elegant, linen-covered carts…a nice touch.

Only the freshest fish and seafood is purchased and prepared in a number of delightful ways. Fillet of sole is prepared with a light, lemony sauce with capers or these tender fillets can be stuffed with crabmeat, shrimp, vegetables and bread crumbs for a visually stunning and delectable meal. Classic shrimp and rice or grilled shrimp with sea salt is another one of the house favorites. Fresh lobster is available every day on the menu, and can be prepared any way you'd like. Main dishes come with a crunchy house salad and your choice of rice or their famous hand sliced, French fried potatoes. They're so crispy, they're practically potato chips and just as addictive. There are also freshly sautéed vegetables such as broccoli or spinach to accompany your dinner.

A traditional Spanish dish called arroz con pollo, cooks tender boneless chicken with rice and smoky chorizo sausage ($14.95). More chicken dishes are on the menu and one of my favorites is chicken Castellana. This French-cut breast is prepared in a light, lemony sauce with artichoke hearts. Chicken estremena is prepared with smoky chorizo sauce, onions and peppers. Fork tender chicken Francese will melt in your mouth, or try tender chicken breast with garlic sauce.

Meat eaters 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 your 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.

Linger after your repast with a glass of port, a traditional after dinner wine from Portugal and some flan, baked custard with a sweet caramelized sugar glaze. There are also fresh fruit sorbets, rich chocolate layer cake and ice cream tartufo. Café con leche is the Spanish version of cappuccino and is served steaming hot, or you could try some coffee flavored with various liqueurs like Kahlua, Tia Maria and cream. El Olivo is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, with lunch specials from $8.95. El Olivo has been serving the Queens community for 14 delicious years with great food, cocktails, sangria and a friendly atmosphere, so visit soon and make any night a fiesta. Larger parties are welcomed and what a great place for a special celebration.

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