El Arrayan: Elmhurst eatery warms heart on Chile night

By Suzanne Parker

Chilean cuisine is an amalgam of indigenous Indian and European influences. The spicings are simple. When Chile was still a colony centuries ago, the Spanish and Creole women, cooking with the Indians, produced local versions of their homeland recipes.Dishes with less meat and more vegetables are typical of Creole and rural Chilean cuisine – examples include humitas or boiled corn paste wrapped in corn husks, pastel de choclo or corn baked dish. Fish and seafood are abundant and a mainstay of the Chilean diet.Chileans represent a small fraction of Queens South American community, so restaurants specializing in their cuisine are far less easy to find than, say, Colombian or Peruvian fare. It is possible to get an authentic and delicious Chilean meal at El Arrayan in Elmhurst. El Arrayan is small and unpretentious, but invitingly cheerful. It serves a full range of Chile's most famous dishes.Empanadas are the universal snack/lunch/hors d'oeuvre pastry pockets served throughout South America. Each country makes them a little differently. At El Arrayan you can get them filled with beef, seafood, or cheese. The beef ones bear a striking resemblance to English Cornish pasties. They are plump squares of dense baked pastry filled with beef and plenty of onions and vegetables and gravy. Delicious!Humitas are what Chileans call tamales. Unlike some other Latin cuisines, the Chilean version served here contains only corn pudding wrapped in corn husks. Without a bit of meat or chicken in the center, they would be better eaten as a side dish than as an appetizer as they are promoted on El Arrayan's menu. None the less, they are sweetly satisfying.Abalone is a popular Chilean delicacy. Served here on a bed of lettuce abalone with homemade mayonnaise, this tasty mollusk is a luxurious starter.Corvina, a white fleshed sea bass is served lightly sauteed and topped with a melange of mixed seafood in a creamy white sauce. The generous portion of corvina was deliciously fresh. The sauce was rather bland, but the variety of seafood in the topping added interest to the dish.Pastel de choclo has to be the ultimate comfort food. We consider it the Chilean equivalent of an American soothing her/himself with a bowl of macaroni and cheese, washed down by a quart of HŠagen-Dazs. It is delivered to the table in a large, scorchingly hot casserole, straight from the oven. It has a thick sweet topping of corn souffle, not dissimilar in flavor to the humitas. The filling combines ground beef, chunks of chicken, hard boiled egg, onions and gravy. Its also the perfect post dental work option – little or no chewing needed.Desserts are not particularly emphasized at El Arrayan. We were offered flan, which was decent, but unmemorable.The Bottom Line Chilean fare is a homey, but pleasing cuisine and El Arrayan is a homey, but pleasing little restaurant. In addition to the food, they have some passably good Chilean wine. Warm yourself with some Chilean comfort food on a chilly night.El Arrayan91-06 43rd Ave. (corner Hampton Street), Elmhurst718-478-6245 Cuisine: Traditional ChileanSetting: Small, unpretentious, cheerful.Service: Friendly and accommodatingHours: Open seven days for lunch and dinnerReservations: UnnecessaryAlcohol: Wine and beerParking: StreetDress: CasualChildren: WelcomeTakeout: YesCredit cards: YesNoise level: AcceptableHandicap accessible: Yes A Sample from the MenuEmpanada de carne…$2.50Humita…$3.00Locos Mayo…$16.00Corvina…$18.00Pastel de Choclo…$10.50Flan…$2.50

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