8032 Baxter Ave, Elmhurst NY 11373 (map); (718) 429-8222; lafustarestaurant.com
Kids' Amenities: High chairs, crayons
Best Dishes for Kids: Grilled meats, Pastas
Cost: Appetizers $2.50-15.50, Entrees $9.50-37.50, Desserts $3.50-9.00
Anyone seeking a South American grill experience or to revive the memories of a trip to the Rio de la Plata should go to La Fusta, the cheerful and well-priced Argentine restaurant in Elmhurst, Queens (with a second location in North Bergen, NJ). La Fusta ("the whip") is decorated in an equine motif, a reference to the country's love for horses. On a recent Saturday night visit, the clientele ranged from large to small families, from old to young couples. We were all greeted by a maitre d' full of cheer, and tended to by attentive, muy simpatico waiters.
Argentina is known for the quality of its meats and delicious parilladas (grilled meats). La Fusta is likewise famous for its grilled skirt steak, but prides itself in offering other ubiquitous Argentine staples such as milanesas and a range of pasta dishes. On a recent visit, we had trouble choosing from the rather extensive menu, but settled for a variety of entrees that included some of the house's specialties and Argentine favorites.
Our meal started with a wonderfully fresh chimichurri (chopped parsley, minced garlic, oil and vinegar) and a basket of bread. As much as I love chimichurri and as good as this one is, it's better to go easy on the bread with chimichurri: you can put it on everything else that comes after and the portions are generous.
La Fusta offers two types of sausages, a pork chorizo and a morcilla (blood pork sausage, $3 each). We went with the former, which is not at all like the paprika-heavy chorizo we are used to in Mexican or Spanish cuisines. This one is subtly spiced with garlic, and pretty crumbly, and if weren't for the excellent steak that came at the same time, it would have been our favorite part of the meal.
We ordered the half skirt steak (entraña, $13.50) and it was perfectly cooked medium, as we ordered—crunchy on the outside, perfectly executed grill marks, tender and juicy on the inside. The flavors were again subtle, leaving a lot of room for the meat's own presence to come through, yet perfectly assertive, and the steak seduced us all from the very first bite. My daughter proclaimed it to be her favorite over the chorizo and the milanesa.
The milanesa de pollo (chicken cutlet Milanese, $13.50), to be fair, was not that great, with the chicken cut a little too thin, making it hard to keep it even minimally moist. Some parts of it were hard to cut and even chew.
Both the milanesa and the steak came with a choice of a side dish and we got a wonderful, plentiful plate of french fries, as golden yellow as they come. Feeling compelled to balance this meat and potato fest with some green, we also ordered a side of broccoli with garlic. It was so good that my daughter did not even realize it was broccoli.
The dessert list is also long, and I was between the flan (flan with dulce de leche, no less, $4.50) and the panqueques de dulce de leche (dulce de leche crepes, $5.80). We opted for the latter, and were pleased with the combination of flavors and textures. The oozy dulce de leche flowed out of a thin crepe, which was in turn slightly caramelized—the burned sugar actually providing a great crunch and bitterness to the otherwise incredibly sweet concoction.
In short, we were very happy with our dinner at La Fusta and can't wait to go try some other items on the menu. I was especially pleased that my daughter ate every single dish on the table and left the restaurant a fan of chimichurri. The way to go at La Fusta, though, is to come in with other adults with healthy appetites and who are into meats, order the parillada mixta (mixed grill, $37.50), a few more dishes, a good Argentine wine, and let the good times roll. The children will follow.