655-8 Montauk Hwy. East Patchogue, NY 631-758-7640
Chef Elmer Rubio's seviche is light and sting-free, briefly "cooking" the yellowfin tuna in a marinade of lime juice and olive oil, with cilantro and shallots. It keeps the red hue. Served with mache green salad, it's one of our 10 favorite tuna dishes on Long Island.Hours: Dinner every day, from 5 p.m. Lunch, Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Chef Elmer Rubio's seviche is light and sting-free, briefly "cooking" the yellowfin tuna in a marinade of lime juice and olive oil, with cilantro and shallots. It keeps the red hue. Served with mache green salad, it's one of our 10 favorite tuna dishes on Long Island.
In the unlikeliest location, Chachama Grill is predictably adventurous.
Thank chef-owner Elmer Rubio, who spurred appetites at Tupelo Honey and the Mill River Inn. He brings a shot of vibrant New American cooking to this shopping-center storefront.
Inside, the decor is spare enough to act as a frame for his artful portraits in food. The walls are a salmon hue, with some color photos suggesting vaguely Latin or southwestern locales.
For Rubio, these sites are merely starting points, as he goes on an ambitious multi-nation run, hopping over pizzerias and vaulting past takeout Chinese, in a diverting, enticing little star turn.
His butternut squash bisque is the essence of autumn, with slices of pear and a swirl of cinnamon-spiked creme fraiche. Black bean soup benefits from lime sour cream and tomato salsa.
Oysters Rubio are crisp and sweet, paired with sauteed spinach; lush, pan- seared sea scallops contrast with the crunch of refreshing jicama slaw. The slaw also goes with the plump crab cake finished with spirited lime-ginger-wasabi dressing.
That trio of ingredients jump-starts an otherwise standard crab-and-avocado salad. Ceviche of tuna arrives in a martini glass, accented with cilantro, shallots and mÃ¢che. Very good. Cabrales cheese, oven-roasted pear, toasted walnuts and a walnut vinaigrette sweetly boost the baby spinach salad; goat cheese, bacon, cucumbers, peppers and a sherry dressing, the hearts of romaine.
Black linguine is tossed with shrimp, squid and chorizo sausage, in a tomato-cilantro broth that successfully spans a couple of continents. Spaghetti squash and artichoke hearts are the base for fine, grilled dayboat scallops in a gentle garlic-and-chanterelle cream.
But blackened salmon shows no spark and is pretty routine. You're better off with the pan-roasted snapper, glossy with crab escabeche and parsley oil; or with the grilled striped bass, with celery root puree, crisp leeks and tomato broth.
Rubio grills a juicy pork chop, accompanied by sweet potatoes, a puree of plantains and pineapple chutney; and another with chickpeas, lemon zest, toasted cumin and tasso ham on roasted tomatoes. There's a lot going on, but it's all harmonious.
Grilled lamb loin is excellent, flanked by a potato gratin, roasted cipollini onions and asparagus. Likewise, the rosy grilled duck breast, fanned around a plate with grilled fennel, diced butternut squash, mushrooms and a red wine jus.
The grilled chicken, with grilled scallions and a mushroom-potato puree, is satisfying if not too exciting. And the grilled rib steak, with oven-roasted potatoes and barbecued shiitake mushrooms, is smoky and to the point. A mild risotto upstages the bland grilled veal chop atop it.
Desserts aren't Chachama Grill's highlights. The Key lime tart dotted with blueberries is nearly soupy, and the plum-frangipane tart is dry. So's the hazelnut-molten chocolate cake. But chocolate mousse is a reliable finale. That goes for the fruit plate with mango sorbet, too.
Besides, at this stage of the meal, you're just happy that Chachama Grill has opened in the neighborhood. Service is sharp, earnest and accommodating; the ambience, warm. The restaurant has a lot of potential and is delivering early on.
Enjoy it now. And go back to see what happens next. --Peter M. Gianotti, 11/16/03