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Sangria 71 in Williston Park: First bites

Paella Valenciana is one of the specialties at

Paella Valenciana is one of the specialties at Sangria 71, a Spanish restaurant in Williston Park. (Nov. 5, 2013) (Credit: Newsday Erica Marcus)

Long Island has plenty of Spanish-speaking kitchens. As for Spanish-cooking kitchens, they're not so plentiful. In September, the number got pushed up to six when Sangria 71 opened in the former digs of Willy Parkers in Williston Park.

It’s a spacious, comfortable restaurant, with two dining rooms and a separate bar. The menu offers lots of value: Almost all of the 30-odd tapas are under $10 and most entrees are under $20 (closer to $10 at lunch). Service is friendly and efficient. I only wish the food had more finesse.

The evening’s winner was tortilla Espanola, the potato-onion frittata that is as close to a national dish as Spain has. Freshly made, it was hot and juicy, garnished with sweet piquillo peppers. Patatas bravas, fried cubes of potatoes in a spicy sauce, were also good, as was “picoteco,” a big slate slab covered with cured meats and cheeses. I was less enthralled with pulpo Gallego, poached octopus that had a flabby texture and lacked both the fruity pungency of good olive oil and the bracing pep of paprika.

Entrees were less successful than tapas. Paella Valenciana, a signature dish at Sangria 71, was topped with clams, mussels, shrimp (tasteless), scallops (overcooked), chicken (very overcooked) and chorizo (too thinly sliced). Believe it or not, I could have lived with such transgressions if the rice, the soul of paella, were done properly. But instead of a crunchy crust of rice adhering to the bottom of the pan, there was a puddle of unabsorbed broth.

Neither the shrimp nor the green sauce in the camarones en salsa had much flavor; chicken Villeroy was a ham-handed rendition whose béchamel coating had the consistency (and, more alarmingly, the flavor) of wallpaper paste. (To folks who remember this dish from the late, lamented El Faro in Greenwich Village, I offer this observation: You can’t go home again.)

Sangria 71 has a well-priced Spanish wine list that I hope to explore. On this visit we ordered a pitcher of sangria, a sweet boozy concoction that would be easy (and fun) to overindulge in.

Sangria 71 is at 71 Hillside Ave., Williston Park, 516-225-4104, sangria71.com.

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