Argentine Amor Shines At Café Mendoza

Hugo Garcia and chef Jose Cheves display Café Mendoza’s Seafood Grill, a selection of perfectly prepared favorites that’s bound to become a go-to plate.

Hugo Garcia and chef Jose Cheves display Café Mendoza’s Seafood Grill, a selection of perfectly prepared favorites that’s bound to become a go-to plate.

Hugo Garcia, the restaurateur behind Café Mendoza in Commack and the Huntington village classic, Cafe Buenos Aires, does just about everything with passion.

Two of his greatest passions – food and people – have served him especially well since coming to the United States from his native Argentina in 1982.

“I love to eat,” he said, with that familiar twinkle in his eye. “I love to serve people.”

So it’s unsurprising that he’s diving into his latest venture, Café Mendoza, a chic little bistro he opened with business partner Fabio Machado on Feb. 11, with the same gusto. He hopes the latest entry into his portfolio will be a burst of Argentine sunshine that breaks through a ripe thicket of Italian eateries.

As opposed to the more formal, sprawling trappings of Buenos Aires, at Mendoza, which is named after his Argentine hometown, a cool vibe prevails, especially at the LED-lit bar with tungsten-style globs floating above.

Chef Jose Cheves oversees a concise menu of small plates, hot tapas and entrees, featuring the most popular fare from Huntington’s Café Buenos Aires, along with a sprinkling of favorites from Bistro Cassis. (And yes, Hugo’s famous red Sangria, an intoxicating medley of Argentine red wines, triple sec, brandy and peach schnapps, is on the menu, perfect for sharing on a hot summer day.)

Like Café Buenos Aires, tapas are the name of the game at Café Mendoza. From top, counterclockwise – Burrata, a chicken empanada, ceviche, Argentine chorizo, center-cut Ahi tuna, pulled pork short ribs and quail egg, and fried calamari, center. Each is sold individually on the tapas menu.

Like Café Buenos Aires, tapas are the name of the game at Café Mendoza. From top, counterclockwise – Burrata, a chicken empanada, ceviche, Argentine chorizo, center-cut Ahi tuna, pulled pork short ribs and quail egg, and fried calamari, center. Each is sold individually on the tapas menu.

Also perfect for sharing are the delightful dishes on the tapas-driven menu.

A seafood grill ($39) offers a light, summery spin on their signature Argentine Mixed Grill ($64, serves two) as well as a perfect introduction into Hugo’s culinary philosophy – a light touch on flavoring and cooking. Don’t overdo either – let the fresh ingredients take the limelight.

Lobster tail meat is remarkably tender and full of citrusy goodness; grilled baby pulpos (octopus) are magnificently tender; calamari is light and garlicky thanks to a touch of chimichurri; shrimp are grilled just right and the salmon is grilled to simple perfection. You’ll find yourself saying “wow” quite a lot between bites – trust us, we did.

Craving heartier fare? Look no further than the sumptuous bacon, pea and Asiago mac & cheese ($8), sourced from Bistro Cassis menu, but presented with South American flair in a rustic red ceramic dish. Also appearing are Cassis’ famous mussels, steak tartare ($14) and 10 oz. black Angus burgers ($15).

Mac and cheese is a decadent detour, one of several favorites sourced from the Bistro Cassis menu.

Mac and cheese is a decadent detour, one of several favorites sourced from the Bistro Cassis menu.

Back to Argentina, and the centerpiece of the menu – tapas, tapas and more tapas. We dove into seven – the famous Argentine chorizo ($8), mild, meaty and delicious with a light peppery hint. Then there’s the classic ceviche de mariscos ($12), a mix of scallops, shrimp and octopus, boiled, then marinated in zesty citrus.

Classic fried calamari ($11) is flaky and tender; center-cut, sesame-crusted Ahi tuna carpaccio ($14) brings classic Asian flair to your plate, and smooth-as-silk burrata ($14) is light and refreshing, served atop garlic and shitake mushrooms. Tender, juicy ropa vieja ($12), a sumptuous blend of braised pepper, mushroom and onion flavors, finished with demiglace and crowned with a fried quail’s egg. Empanadas ($3), an Argentine staple, are the best we’ve ever had.

Don’t know where to start? Hugo’s got that covered, too.

A $12 dine-in lunch prix fix is a fabulous bargain and a great introduction to what Mendoza has to offer. Choose from a petit soup or salad; and sandwiches, including a grilled black Angus steak sandwich served sliced with Muenster, caramelized onions, lettuce and tomato; the classic Cuban with pork loin, ham, Swiss and pickles; Chicken Breast with provolone, bacon, grilled red onions and tomatoes; and the braised pulled-pork slider with sautéed onions in a barbecue sauce.

Or, try a four-tapa sampler, also $12, which includes an empanada, garbanzos y longaniza (sautéed chickpeas with spicy Spanish sausage), fried calamari, spinach gnocchi with breaded scallops, shiitake mushrooms, cream sauce and truffle oil, served with soup or salad.

It all makes for a marvelous start to what we hope will be the dawn of many successful years of fine dining and masterful memory-making on Commack Road.