By Suzanne Parker
Cocina Latina entered our radar via the recent Queens: A Taste of the World event, where its spread was one of the standouts among the 40 or so restaurants and purveyors participating. A follow-up visit to the Web site of this Pan-Latino eatery informed us that their “mouth-watering entrees will have your stomach salsa dancing in no time.” When our stomach dances, it’s usually a warning of less pleasant things to come, but we put aside our misgivings and meringued our way to Queens Boulevard in Kew Gardens.
Cocina’s owner is Dominican, the chef (like soooo many in New York) is Mexican, and the menu spans all of Latin America, with lots of fusing. It occupies a long, narrow space with a bar in front. The décor runs to the glitz, rather like an overdressed woman at an informal party. The recorded music, ’80s funk when we first arrived, emanates from speakers in the rear of the restaurant, and is cranked up for the enjoyment of bar customers in the front, assailing the diners in the further reaches along the way. We had to beg several times until we could get the music turned down, but eventually prevailed.
We were greeted with a dish of a creamy avocado dip (not chunky like Mexican guacamole) served with crunchy banana chips that had been sliced lengthwise, creating maximum dipping real estate, a very nice freebie. We followed that up with salmon ceviche, with which we were so taken with at the tasting event, and it didn’t disappoint. It was citrusy with a nice tang, served with a few avocado slices and saltines. They also did a great job on fried calamari served with avocado allioli in a light, airy batter.
The crusted salmon over yuca was another item that impressed us at the tasting event. The version at the restaurant enjoyed the same nice crust, pleasant seasonings and creamy mashed yucca, but the salmon was overdone.
Parillada de la casa (for two) is a mixed grill, Latino style. The results were mixed as well. Skirt steak, chicken skewers, ribs, two kinds of chorizo and sweet plantains occupied a platter with a cute, briefly lit mini brazier. The ribs were meaty and the skirt steak nicely seasoned, but inadequately seared. The sausages were overdone — possibly reheated, and the chicken kebabs were most definitely past their prime. The paella was the biggest disappointment — overdone with mealy rice.
Things got back on track with a lovely creamy flan for dessert and cinnamon-laced coffee.
The Bottom Line
Cocina Latina tries to cover all bases, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. They even offer a breakfast with a nod to their location across from the courts called the “Jury Duttie.” They make a killer sangria, nice and fruity, in either red or white, that went wonderfully with our terrific appetizers. Sticking to the lighter fare and taking advantage of the bar is the way to go. The prices are wallet-friendly.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
125-22 Queens Boulevard
Kew Gardens, NY 11415
Price Range: Appetizers $6-12, entrees: $12-24
Cuisine: Pan Latino
Setting: Small, glitzy
Service: Friendly, professional.
Hours: Open seven days; breakfast, lunch and dinner weekdays, dinner only weekends
Alcohol: Full license
Credit Cards: All
Noise Level: Recorded music can be loud
Handicap accessible: Yes