2012-10-10 / Restaurant of the Week

La Flor Bakery and Restaurant

By Teresa Barile

La Flor opened 12 years ago as a bakery, offering delicate pastries, muffins, cookies, breads and more in the tidy spot on the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and 52nd Street in Woodside. Soon after, Owner and Executive Chef Vico Ortega added a full lunch, dinner and brunch menu to the delight of his very appreciative clientele. Ortega has years of experience in some of New York’s finest restaurants and brings his Mexican-fusion cuisine to Queens for all to enjoy. “Cooking is my passion,” says Ortega, and it certainly shows in each and every dish, which he prepares himself, in full view in his open kitchen.

The cozy dining room is warmed by a red, stenciled wall, brick floors and tile-topped tables with soft lighting above. The warmest elements of all are Chef Ortega himself and his lovely staff, as well as the adoring patrons who come for consistently fine cuisine right in their backyard. “At La Flor you get Manhattan quality cuisine under the el,” said one loyal diner, as she enjoyed pan-roasted pork chops and lemon crème brulee for dessert. Only the freshest ingredients, including a variety of vegetables and chilies indigenous to Mexico, are used to prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner items.

Come in for breakfast or weekend brunch where you’ll enjoy house made muffins, scones, delicate pastries filled with chocolate or fruit, croissants, and egg dishes. The aroma from bourbon vanilla French toast is intoxicating, and the huevos rancheros will wake anyone up with the scent of warm tortillas and refried beans. Irish breakfast is served with a generous helping of sausages, and a vegetable frittata offers a healthy slice to start the day. Brunch specials change each weekend so you can visit often and always try something new.

At lunchtime, the grilled salmon wrap is a healthy choice with sliced avocado and pesto mayonnaise ($10.95). Grilled chicken, arugula, and red onion is another tantalizing choice, as is the fresh mozzarella wrap with lettuce and sun-dried tomatoes. I hear their individual pizzas are delicious too, made with homemade dough and fresh toppings such as fennel sausage, tomato, mozzarella or marinated pork and cilantro on one of the Mexican style pizzas. Warm chick pea salad with spinach and Manchego cheese makes an excellent lunch or a side salad to share. We shared the mango and jicama salad and loved the sweet and savory flavors and textures of this beautifully presented dish.

If you thought of La Flor as a bakery only, you need to think again. Chef Ortega prepares world-class cuisine utilizing recipes and ingredients from his native Mexico, with classic American fare. The results are wonderful with appetizers that include cornmeal crusted calamari with smoky chipotle dipping sauce ($7.95) and succulent crab cakes. Flautas de pollo are tortillas stuffed with shredded chicken and mild seasonings, and few can resist classic mac and cheese. The daily specials are based on what’s fresh and available in the market place. We were treated to one of my favorite treats; grilled Mission figs with bleu cheese. The combination of sweet figs and savory bleu cheese makes your taste buds dance. Order a bottle of reasonably priced wine, or have a beer with your meal. We were surprised to see a Sauvignon Blanc from Mexico and found it to be crisp and flavorful.

It’s difficult to decide among all the tempting entrees, but suffice to say, whether you feel like meat, fish, chicken, pasta, or classic Mexican fare, there is something for everyone here. All dishes are personally prepared by Chef Ortega, so please be patient and you will be richly rewarded with his culinary talents, served piping hot on gleaming plates. Molcajete de salmon is one of the most popular dishes here, and with good reason. Grilled Atlantic salmon is placed over mashed potatoes, sweet corn and pico del gallo in a stone bowl called a ‘molcajete,’ which is traditionally used to prepare guacamole. The salmon was supremely fresh and the sweet corn punctuated all the delicious seasonings. Braised lamb shank is a Fred Flintstone-sized portion of juicy, succulent, slow-cooked meat, served over a potato cake with sautéed spinach. The same is true for the braised short ribs, a dish that takes years to perfect. Chef Ortega’s braised short ribs fall off the bone and signal the start of autumnal dining at its finest. The locals next to us could not say enough about the pan-roasted pork chops or the Chef’s barbecued baby back ribs with chipotle sauce. The evening’s special NY Strip steak was cooked to perfection and served with a mushroom demi-glace that must have taken hours to prepare. The generous portion of steak, mashed potatoes and spinach provided lunch the next day and another opportunity to praise La Flor Restaurant. The spaghetti with seafood rivals that of any Italian restaurant.

Let’s put all that haute cuisine aside for a moment and take a look at classic Mexican dishes. La Flor’s classic dishes include tacos and quesadillas filled with chicken, shrimp, steak, carnitas, or vegetables and are ideal for sharing. They’re great for lunch or dinner and the kids will love them too. Tortas are big pies, similar to frittata, made with eggs, potatoes, and other yummy ingredients and a generous slice makes a great breakfast or lunch.

La Flor’s roots are in baking so you must save room for dessert where you’ll be dazzled with banana bread pudding served warm and topped with crème Anglaise. Indivdual chocolate soufflés are served warm so that the gooey center oozes like a volcano of yumminess. Chocolate mousse cake, tiramisu, cheesecake and lemon crème brulee are just a few of the sweet choices you’ll find.

A meal at La Flor Bakery and Restaurant is a culinary treat, whether you stop in for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or weekend brunch. They’re located just downstairs from the 7 train’s 52nd Street stop and you’ll always feel welcome here. For Mexican Fusion cuisine in the heart of Queens, you must visit La Flor Bakery and Restaurant. Buen provecho!

53-02 Roosevelt Avenue  Woodside


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