2010-09-15 / Restaurant of the Week

Madera Cuban Grill - Steak House

Transport yourself to the tropical island of Cuba where cool breezes blow and rum drinks flow while juicy steaks sizzle on the grill. Madera Cuban Grill and Steak House opened in the now-trendy Long Island City neighborhood just four months ago, yet has already gained popularity for their fabulous steaks, chops, seafood and traditional Cuban dishes and cocktails served in a warm and friendly atmosphere.

The warm, romantic, sophisticated dining room was designed single-handedly by co-owner Daniel Sollosqui, who incorporated lots of warm woods to make the inviting bar and dining tables with his own hands. An accomplished artist, Daniel’s paintings hang on the walls, along with prints from the elusive island of Cuba. A recessed fireplace and warm colored walls imbue Madera with a magnetic pull that says “Stay…relax for a while.” Daniel’s wife, Miriam Porto, a native of Cuba, is in charge of the kitchen where chefs create dishes from recipes handed down from her mother, who cooked for her family of 11 children back in La Maya, Cuba. Together, with their many years of experience in the restaurant business, Madera Cuban Grill and Steakhouse epitomizes all you’d expect from fine dining, at prices within reach to all.

You ought to start with a cocktail such as their classic mojito, a Cuban concoction made from muddled lime and mint mixed with rum and dressed with a spear of real sugar cane. The “besito” is “little kiss” of coconut infused vodka shaken with pomegranate and pineapple juices. Freshly mixed, fruity sangria comes in red or white varieties and there is a wide selection of wines and beers to enjoy with your meal.

We were treated to a lavish array of appetizers from their menu that exemplify the diversity and richness of Cuban cuisine. Coconut shrimp are prepared in a light batter, then baked, not fried so they’re crunchy and light. The accompanying mango-mint sauce is a nice complement to these plump shrimp ($10.50). Another excellent shrimp appetizer skewers them with sugar cane and drizzles them with rum glaze before they hit the barbecue. Fried codfish croquettes are tender and moist, made with potato and herbs ($8). There are also croquettes made with savory ham, chicken or mixed seafood, all of which are crisp and golden outside and tender inside. Try a flaky empanada pastry filled with either beef, seafood or cheese. One of Miriam’s house favorites are plantains called “tostones” filled with a classic stew called “ropa vieja”. Succulent shredded beef is slow cooked for hours with peppers, onions, herbs and spices. These plantains can also be filled with mildly spiced ground beef, or shrimp and there’s enough to share with your companion. Spanish sausages called “chorizo” are sliced thin and sautéed with sweet peppers and onions for a savory treat that you’ll want to pick up with bread to soak up all the juices. Soup of the day such as classic black bean soup or a tropical salad tossed with greens, papaya, mango and oranges will whet your appetite for more.

Madera Cuban Grill and Steakhouse lives up to its name with top quality steaks, chops and seafood, all purchased daily. In fact Miriam personally shops for meat, fish and produce for the restaurant to ensure quality and freshness. The Madera Style Steak is their finest prime shell steak, charcoal grilled to your liking and served with homemade rice and beans or a house salad ($27). Skirt steak is grilled to perfection and topped with chimmichurri sauce, made from parsley, garlic and olive oil ($20). Argentinean-style beef spareribs are lean and delicious, with meat that renders easily from the bone. I enjoyed “abuela’s cerdo” or “grandma’s pork chop” that has been marinated in a special blend of juices and herbs, then fired up on the grill to a juicy finish ($18). Mom’s “lechon” is slow-roasted pork that simply melts in your mouth with its natural flavor and juices. By the way, I could eat their rice and beans every day and not get tired of them, they’re so delicious!

If you prefer fish, the chef prepared their most popular one; grilled red snapper with mango and black bean relish. The generous portion of fish is cooked over mesquite to impart a smoky flavor, which counterparts nicely with the sweet relish. Macadamia crusted sea bass is another healthy option, as is the grilled salmon with lemon, wine and spices, topped with mango and cilantro salsa. Creole style shrimp and seafood stew are also excellent choices.

Sweeten your palate with their cool, creamy coconut flan, topped with golden, toasted coconut or a helping of their warm bread pudding scented with cinnamon and topped with creamy caramel sauce. Decadent fried ice cream and rich chocolate cake are great for sharing and of course the coffee is delicious.

Madera Cuban Grill and Steakhouse is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, from noon until 11pm on weekdays and until midnight on weekends. There are fantastic steak or chicken sandwiches for lunch as well as the Madera burger. Madera is conveniently located near the subway stops in LIC and a short walk down the street offers incredible views of Manhattan from Gantry Park. Put Madera on your list of “must goes” for fabulous, authentic Cuban cuisine served in a romantic, friendly setting with warm, hospitable staff.

47-29 Vernon Blvd. • Long Island City

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