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May 13, 2021

WATERMELON WITH A TWIST

I always love to hear about a new restaurant when the cuisine is a bit on the unusual side. Elliot and Pedro Verdas decided that their entrepreneur locale should be in the now trendy Flatiron district just above Greenwich Village. I’m only guessing that a bar was the first thought and the restaurant the afterthought when they named the eatery Sandia, the Spanish word for watermelon and not a highlight on the menu, but a liquor used in many of the drinks (Has the liquor industry not come up with any fruit that’s not turned liquor?)

Walking a few steps down I enter to view a long bar and seating for about 50 people. Not at the bar, silly…the restaurant area. The back tables give view to a glass ceiling and sort of back yard area. It makes for more sunlight in the day and must be great when there’s a full moon. The kitchen is an elongated area toward the back of the restaurant. That’s it. All of the cooking takes place right there, but it’s not like you can hear the clattering of dishes and such. That’s where we sat.

The Veras’ hired Roberto Pagan as the Executive Chef. Roberto was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in Miami and did extensive traveling in Asia. He decided to modify a cuisine that was taught to him by adding what appear to be mostly Chinese and Japanese influences.

We first ordered a drink, one of many fruity creations that Jerri Banks concocted. I had one called “Yellow Doll Cocktail”, consisting of Ciroc, Yellow Doll Watermelon, Elderflower Cordial and Lemon Juice. Jo went for the “I Dream of Fiji” with sake, fresh pineapple, Fili Papaya tea and ginger syrup. Both glasses were decorated with star fruit.

It was tasting time! Appetizers. “Beef ropa vieja in a malanga taquito” Braised skirt steak shredded and stewed with tomatoes and peppers resting in a tiny taro taco, topped with shredded lettuce, pickled jalapeno and micro sprouts. “Yuca coated scallops with roasted pineapple salsa”. Had to use a spoon for the leftover salsa puree.

I passed on the Black Bean Soup after hearing the ingredients. But it sounded like it would be delicious and so I’ll pass it on to you. It’s seasoned with cumin, sugar, red vinegar, cilantro and garlic and served with an avocado puree (avocado and sour cream).

Sushi rolls? Yup. But none that I’ve ever had. Spicy tuna roll in a crispy plantain crust was shared and well appreciated. Now that might not sound unusual, but the Salmon Skin did. How about bacon, lettuce, roasted tomato, queso fresco with a clamansi aioli. Then there was the 5 Spice beef roll of thin sliced beef, Chinese long beans and horseradish topped with portabella mushrooms and served with an orange flavored soy dipping sauce.

Salad time! Calamari salad (small, lightly battered and fried rings) and frisee with finger bananas, jicama, chili candied walnuts topped with a sesame orange dressing. Crispy chicken salad with nappa cabbage, mung beans, malanga crisps with a miso ginger dressing. You can always opt for what appeared to be the only watermelon dish on the menu, the Sandia Salad. Watermelon sticks, fried queso fresco over watercress topped with a balsamic soy vinaigrette.

I chose the signature dish for my entrée. Wok king crab legs with eggplant and Chinese long beans in a sweet and spicy sauce. The crab legs are sautéed with chili, scallions, garlic, ginger and sesame oil. Spicy but not for my need to order a glass of milk.

At first I thought that Jo was coming from a place of boredom when she ordered that Portabella mushroom sandwich. The mushrooms had the consistency of chicken (but didn’t taste like it). The sandwich wrap has tomatoes and peashoots and served with a house chip medley. Most places serve sandwiches with potato chips and some fancier restaurants make their own potato chips. Roberto opted to hand make taro, banana, potato and I’m not sure what else, but these were totally outrageous. The chips should be on a bar menu…hint, hint. I hear that all of the menu items begin with a thought.

We thought about dessert and in spite of a full tummy situation rationalized that it was Jo’s birthday and had to at least share one. Coconut lychee flan with candied ginger; Chocolate banana spring rolls with coconut ice cream; Passion fruit brulee; or Alfajores (almond) cookies with toasted five spice coconut and vanilla ice cream? I’ll let you decide.

Sandia, open for both lunch and dinner, is located at 111 W. 17th Street between 6th and 7th Avenue. 212-627-3700.

February 17, 2005 - Queens Times

 


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