By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Background CheckToo often, Long Islanders who want to break out of the humdrum head for Manhattan. Only in the city, the thinking goes, can a place make it serving, for instance, Ethiopian or Tibetan food. That may explain why hybrid restaurants seem to be the new wave on Long Island: Antsy proprietors of ethnic restaurants try to stack the deck by including more popular cuisines on their menu. Italian/Mexican/Greek places have opened and closed. Chinese restaurants offer Japanese sushi. Portuguese places offer Italian and Spanish. No one wants to be caught without a pasta dish. This is nothing but cross-dining. I distrust this all-things-for-all-people food- court approach. I don't want to eat Thai duck salad at Mario's. Specialize or dematerialize, I say.
Casing the Joint The place very fittingly has two signs. "Tortilla Grill" above the window and "Yass" hanging in the window. It's two, two, two restaurants in one.
Fitting the two-faced nature of the food, you can either order at the counter or you can sit down at one of the 15 or so tables and wait for a waiter. If you're ordering from the Yass side of the menu, you may as well sit down because these are more formal dishes eaten with a knife and fork. If you're ordering from the Tortilla Grill side you can get a good look at the food at the counter.
What We Eat We order at the counter and then sit down. Halim-bademjan ($5), which is mashed cooked eggplant with onions in tomato sauce, is a warm concoction into which we dip toasted extra-long pita bread. It's a lot like the eggplant salad you might get at an Italian café. Kabob kobideh ($9.95) is char-broiled ground lamb and beef that's been formed into two long cylinders. It comes off the skewer with a grilled tomato and served with fragrant basmati rice. We gobble it up. Kabob barg ($11.95), two charbroiled strip steaks marinated in "our special recipe," is fork tender and delicious. You can get one of each of these as the kabob soltani ($14.95). The khoresh of the day ($8.50) is not named after the late leader of the Branch Davidians, I'm pretty sure. This place is too much about the melting pot. No controversy here. This is not Waco, Tex/Mex. Khoresh is a stew that consists of leeks and greens with beef and exotic spices that neither our waiter, Doron, nor Jose, the cook, could reveal to me. It was very different and gratifying.
All the favorites from Tortilla Grill are here, and the glatt kosher designation does not affect taste in any way. The chicken stew tortilla ($2.29) is still the best deal on the Island. Tarragon, not normally found in Tex or Mex foods, is the difference. The salmon burrito ($7.49) is 12 inches of soft flour tortilla with beans, rice, lettuce, tomato and guacamole. I don't remember this from Huntington but it's a satisfying lighter surprise. You can also sample the salmon fajita-style ($3.99). You can also get fajitas by the pound ($17.99 per) to go.
Vegetarians Fear not, this place is a cornucopia. Try the halim-bademjan, as we did. Check to see if the khoresh of the day has meat in it or not. Make sure there is no chicken broth being used. Of course there's hummus ($3.50) and baba ganoush ($4) as well. Salad e-shirazi ($4) is cucumber, tomato and onions. The vegetarian chili ($2.29) is some of the best I've ever had. How can you go wrong with the pinto bean tortilla ($1.39) or a large guacamole salad ($6.99)?
Cavity Patrol Don't worry: Nothing exotic here. Do what Hillary did the day before: Go to Bruce's Bakery down the street.