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Aug 11, 2008 01:59 PM

Review - Casa de Elian (Forest Hills)

My SO and I finally tried Casa de Elian this past Friday night. Overall I think this place has a lot of potential and clearly has a good sensibility when it comes to the food. We really enjoyed our meal. I think the biggest downsides are that some of the aspects of the atmosphere needs improvement to really make it a more fun destination.

First, the good part - the food was really good. We ordered quite a bit to get a sense of what they had to offer. We started with guacamole which was very fresh. I'm not usually a big fan of tomatoes in guacamole but they added a nice sweetness and a bit of acidity that we liked. We also had two tacos - one carnitas and the other fried tilapia. We liked these but thought they both lacked a little flavor though the hot sauce served on the side helped. These were probably the items we were least fond of.

Then for mains we had the chicken mole with a side of the baked beans and the beef enchiladas with a side of rice (the Mexican-style rice, though they also offer white rice). The mole was delicious - really deep flavor and it was served on chicken breast that was perfectly cooked, not dry at all. The beans were really tasty in a nice rich broth. We thought the beef enchiladas were great, probably our favorite part of the meal. They were bathed in a tomatillo sauce that was excellent and had some crumbled queso and crema on top.

For dessert we had the flan which had a nice burnt caramel taste to it. The only downside was that it was served with what was clearly out of the can whipped cream. I would suggest forget the whipped cream, the flan doesn't need it anyways.

It's BYOB at the moment while they wait on their liquor license. I think once they get the bar in it will feel more festive because right now there is just the empty bar and exposed brick where I imagine the shelving will be put. The owner (think it's the owner) was at the bar working on his laptop which made it feel a little odd.

The atmosphere itself needs a bit of a push. They need to turn down the lighting and the music could use an overhaul. They were mostly playing what sounded like traditional Mexican or Latin American music but the tempo was really slow and so it felt a bit staid. If they want to keep it traditional, it needs to be a bit louder and faster or instead just go with fun rock/alt rock music. At one point The Outfield came on and it felt kind of silly and retro but it works. Hey, if Babbo can keep Radiohead on the playlist then music like that can work in much less formal settings.

The other thing are the chairs. I appreciate them trying to go for a more casual, rough hewn look but the chairs look (and feel) a lot like unfinished and unsanded furniture.

So all in all - I'm happy to see a place like this in Forest Hills. We need something more adult with serious cooking (to break away from the chain restaurant mentality around here). I hope they'll tweak the atmosphere a bit because this place has a lot of potential.

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    1. re: MESOHUNGRY

      Metro Ave ...

      Casa de Elian
      104-20 Metropolitan Ave, Queens, NY 11375

    2. We tried this place a few months ago. We phoned in our order for pick-up. The food was good, better than expected. We were told that the menu changes every week. It's worth revisiting. We tried the taco sampler (fish taco was the best), the guac ($7 - decent), the grilled corn ($3), the tilapia entree ($14) and a chicken entree ($14) (the tilapia was better). Did not get dessert.

      At the time, they had no highchairs available for children...

      12 Replies
      1. re: sohjyu

        We do not change the menu every week. I apologize if you received that information from a staff member. I eventually would like to get creative with the menu by way of specials, but unfortunately, we have not had the volume to sustain such. I am hoping that the summer is culprit to our weak start. Most people are digging the food, so that gives me a glimmer of hope.

        1. re: DAVIDSAMPAYO

          I tried the restaurant with two other people and we agreed we would never go back again. We had a lot of problems.

          First of all, the dishes were served all out of order (in fact my main dish was served way before the other two, so I had the choice of eating mine first and watching my companions eat later, or wait until theirs came and mine was cold). When I pointed this out nicely to the waiter, he got very snippy and walked away. Very unprofessional. Also the side dishes were served as appetizers. But the worst thing was the TINY portions for $12 - $14 each! Not even the rice and beans were included in the price, small as they were. We actually walked out hungry. Also, LOSE THOSE HIGH STOOLS! They're awful. I had always suspected that few restaurants in FH were really on par with Manhattan and Brooklyn, and frankly this restaurant does nothing to change my opinion.

          1. re: Wille

            We didn't experience the same service issues you did and the pacing/order of our courses came out as expected. Though there was one server who seemed a little inexperienced (the woman, not the guy - we thought the guy was efficient and professional).

            Portion size is all subjective, but still I wouldn't think their portions are tiny. Tiny would be something you'd expect in a tasting menu, when you have 3-4 bites of one thing. I thought there was a normal amount of food. We had 3 enchiladas and the chicken in the chicken mole was likely 8-9 oz or so which is totally appropriate. The sides of rice and beans were all what we usually get when we're at other Mexican restaurants. We actually had leftover chicken and beans the next day. I thought we got out of there pretty cheaply - like $60 for two including tax and tip.

            1. re: pellegrino31

              For $60 you could feed 4 at De Mole. Sounds like they have a lot of kinks to work out. The chair thing alone will keep me away, serious back issues. It's best to have more moderate pricing if they want to be a go to neighborhood spot, $60 for 2 is not my idea of a regular weekly dinner. $30-35 is fine.

              1. re: janie

                I think Casa de Elian and De Mole are not exact comparisons in terms of restaurant type which then impacts cost. The former is a more contemporary type of restaurant whereas the latter is an authentic ethnic restaurant. So the price differential makes sense, at least to me. If I went to Chinatown Brasserie for dim sum I would know I'm paying for a different experience than if I went to Flushing.

                This is off topic but where in the neighborhood does $30 get dinner for two, all in, for decent food?

                  1. re: pellegrino31

                    $30 for 2? Lots of places in Queens, and I think the comparison is okay when Casa De Elian was described as authentic Mexican not some haute version of Mexican. I looked at their paper menu, if that place is considered upscale to De Mole, I don't agree in the least. I don't understand the word contemporary, and the word ethnic as being comparable. Are you saying that their food is some sort of Mexican fusion? I don't know if they've added anything new, but the selections were sparse, and the atmosphere doesn't sound like a destination spot to me.

                    I much prefer "real" ethnic, fusion ethnic just rubs me the wrong way, it's generally artifical, overpriced, overwraught food, that is forgettable for me. I'll take De Mole and anything else "ethnic" over Danny Brown Wine Bar, or the same ilke anyday.

                    1. re: janie

                      Queens is not a "neighborhood". Forest Hills is a neighborhood. And the question is where can you get a decent meal for 2 for $30 in this neighborhood. You could go to 5 Burro Cafe and get two orders of steak tacos for probably $40 with tax and tip. At Nick's you could get a pie and a salad for $30 if you drink water. I'm struggling to think of anything else that isn't a chain or disgusting.

                      1. re: phatcat43

                        Perhaps because I drive everywhere, that is exactly how I think of Queens, as a big diverse neighborhood that I can scoot all over the place to find the best of so many things. Yes, I can understand having to rely on public transportation changes things for lots of people. However, in Forest Hills, and immediate surroundings, you could eat at many of the Uzbek places for $30 for 2, Corfu has a lunch and dinner special, You could have a nice falafel and asstd salads at Hapisgah in Kew Garden Hills, You could have burgers at several places, You could eat amazing sandwiches at La Tavernetta in Glendale, and you could get to go off their menu at 20% off, you could eat at Pio Pio on Woodhaven or Tu Casa in Kew Gardens, you could eat at Turkish place in Rego Park, you could eat at Metro Sushi in Kew Gardens, they have dinner specials, you could eat at Nicks with a salad and large pizza (we always just drink water), you could eat at Just Like Mothers for their dinner specials or pieorgis, etc, you could eat at J&D Pizzaria which makes fabulous pastas and chicken dishes that come with huge salad and garlic rolls, should I go on? There are many options for 2 for $30 an under.

                        And small portions of pseudo ethnic food, just won't do it for me, so I'll stay away until I hear something more substantial about the place. I really don't understand yet, from the reviews here, what they are doing that is exactly worth going for. That is my point.

                        Yes, if you've got the dough to blow, why not try it, but things are much tighter today for lots of us, and for me especially I want value, authenticity, and a comfortable atmosphere when I've got limited budget to spend.

                        1. re: janie

                          Since I've been in FH (the last two years after several in Brooklyn) I've come to see that there are basically 2 camps when it comes to FH/KG/RP food - people either love it or hate it. There is little room for in between.

                          Aside from Nick's, I'd rather stay at home to eat than part with $30. I have no idea what is so special about Just Like Mothers. Tu Casa was okay but there is zero atmosphere. La Tavernetta gets rave reviews but I just don't get it - our meal there was not memorable. Corfu was pretty disappointing too. Aside from Mood in Kew Gardens, the burger offerings in this area are dismal.

                          We've tried to like the restaurants here because it is our neighborhood and all but save for a few places, I'd rather spend my money elsewhere.

                      2. re: janie

                        Well the $30 for 2 - we were talking about neighborhood spots and since we were talking about Casa de Elian I figured you meant Forest Hills and not "all of Queens". A neighborhood spot to me doesn't require a trip on the subway. It's someplace I can walk to easily or drive to and still stay within FH proper. Otherwise anything else becomes someone else's neighborhood spot and a destination for me.

                        What I mean by contemporary is that it doesn't have the atmosphere of places like in JH where it's clear the main focus of those places are to cater to the local ethnic population with other interlopers scattered about. And it's their description as authentic Mex, not mine. It's not fusion and I wasn't suggesting that either. If there was a contiuum where (just to use local NYC references) and De Mole/Taq Coatzingo were on one end and Rosa Mexicano was on the other then Casa de Elian would lean towards the Rosa Mexicano side of things.

                        The menu has expanded from their opening so I don't consider it sparse. 2 choices per course seems sparse to me. If there are 4-5+ offerings it seems reasonable. I'd rather have the restaurant offer a total of 10 things they do great than 25 that are a mixed bag.

                      3. re: pellegrino31

                        I am all for "ethnic dining experiences" but I also expect to see some food on the plate. When we went for dinner, we paid $3 for a "Side" of black beans, which was equal to about two mouthfulls. The tacos were smaller than my fist. What Mexican restaurant does not give you rice and beans on the side?? To be honest, I am 5'5 and 118 lbs. I eat like a bird. When I come out of a restaurant hungry, that's really saying something.

            2. The original comment has been removed
              1. We ate here last night and it was WONDERFUL! We ordered the guac (a MUST), and the talapia ceviche, which was delicious. I asked for hot sauce and David (the owner) brought over 3 home-made versions, a mild tomatillo sauce, a medium chipotle and a very spicy sauce (can't remember the name of the chile used, but it was dried and strong). For mains, I ordered the cheese chile rellenos and my husband ordered the chicken enchiladas. Both dishes were great, and very generous portions. We ordered a side of grilled corn (slathered with mayo, grated cotija, chili powder and lime) which was, I think, the best part of the meal. For desert, we had the flan and when David brought it out to us, he said since it was the last piece of flan, and a smaller slice than he would like, so he also gave us a slice of tres leches cake which was DEEEEELICIOUS!
                In all, a great addition to the neighborhood---we will be back!

                1 Reply
                1. re: SustainablePantry

                  My wife and I ate here with our two year old daughter tonight. We will certainly be back. We were thrilled to finally find non TEX-MEX Mexican without having to treck to Jackson Heights or Red Hook or Sunset Park.

                  We thought the ambiance was great. I am not sure of this area is ready for or will support that type of ambiance but it worked for us. The latin pop/rock /mana/ carlos vives in the background was great. No-one gave us a hard time about our daughter running around. The prices were reasonable. Service was top notch.

                  The guacamole was excellent and fresh -- semed to be actually mashed with a utensil rather than turned into green pulp in a blender. It could have been a bit spicier to my liking. The elote was fantastic, with delicious cheese, crema and just the right touch of chili powder. For me, the steak with poblanos could have had a bit more taste -- more poblanos. And the tacos could have had a bit more grease and some radishes and pickled jalapenos.

                  But all in all a total shock and breath of fresh air to find this place. And you can always sneak across the street to Eddie's for dessert if flan is not your thing.

                  To the owners: Any chance you can add huaraches to the menu?

                2. I have to say, finally some decent Mexican in Forest Hills.