Taught to cook by his mother, Raymunda (who can often be found manning the stove), executive chef Roberto Herrera transforms ingredients from countries such as Honduras, Colombia, and his native El Salvador into the lively, authentic dishes of La Casa Latina?s dinner menu. As nighttime gets underway, pupusas?handmade corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans, or pork?whet appetites in preparation for main courses. A favorite on the menu, the shell steak stars in the Honduran platter alongside a fried egg, beans, plantains, and avocado. Such cuisine has even attracted the praise of the New York Times, and since then, the restaurant has expanded to include a full bar, three 55-inch televisions, and an extensive tapas menu.
Imbued with the colors of a sunset, a mirrored ribbon of tile skirts along the walls, reflecting smiles and alternate realities. In the kitchen, Herrera wields 20 years of culinary experience while dazzling guests in La Casa Latina's dining room and serving meals to seniors via the social-service agency Services Now for Adult Persons, Inc.
Chef Ayhan opened his first restaurant on Long Island more than 35 years ago, setting the stage for a fiefdom of successful Mediterranean restaurants across the region, each one serving up freshly caught seafood, succulent kebabs, and creamy hummus. The menu draws inspiration from the cuisines of Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, and Israel, entertaining taste buds with an eclectic mix of dishes, such as doner gyro kebab, spinach-and-feta pie, sesame-crusted salmon, and char-grilled calamari.
Maybe it's the food—classic burgers and fries with rugged upgrades such as Jameson whiskey sauces, jalapeño and chipotle mayo, or crispy onions and pepper jack cheese. Maybe it's the drink menu, which ranges from craft brews on tap to flashy cocktails served in fishbowls. Maybe it's the decor, which features tin ceilings, unfinished wood walls, an array of hubcaps, and furnishings made from vanquished beer cans. Or maybe it's just the restaurant's habit of spelling everything with a Z. Now under new management, there's something about CANZ that makes an old-fashioned road warrior feel right at home.
Executive chef Pat Ippolito may be a culinary professional, but his mother, Norine, makes the tiramisu at his restaurant. As the New York Times noted in its favorable review, the seasonally changing gourmet meals at 490 West are often a family effort. Ippolito comes from a restaurant family, and on the weekends, Norine and his wife, Meredith, help him prepare his upscale bistro cuisine in the white- and taupe-hued dining room.
The plates they carry are strewn with artfully assembled dishes: wildflowers perch atop stacks of shrimp and greens; vibrant, fuschia-streaked sprouts crown a fillet of just-caught fish; and sun-yellow sauce highlights a row of mussels. However, Ippolito and his family don't just choose ingredients for their beauty; they collect organic and locally acquired produce whenever possible, and every fish is wild and brought to the kitchen the very day it's served. No added antibiotics or hormones sully the menu's natural meats, and there are even some gluten-free dishes available—but they don't respond well to pickup lines. Examples of these conscientiously culled inputs include escargots exalted by the Times, steak, baked brie, and salmon. A tasting menu whets appetites for crab cakes, and a prix fixe menu showcases multiple-course specialties.