"You're not allowed to gallop through the town," according to a loose translation of a sign hanging in the dining area at La Cabaña. But the only things galloping around here are cars down Northern Boulevard. On another wall of this Argentine restaurant in Jackson Heights, someone has framed and posted newspaper clippings in Spanish and English about the 1982 Falklands War. There are flags and signs and even a detailed map, Argentina in pinks and yellows. It's a love letter to the United Provinces.
Pride bursts from the menu. The brick oven in the back, it said, had been specially imported from Argentina. Rather than try one of the many pizzas on offer, we went with the grissini ($6). The narrow bread sticks, showered with basil and Parmesan, formed a pretty lattice pattern. We dunked the bread sticks into the small vat of pesto, garlicky enough to keep vampires away.
Our second appetizer, a beef gaucho pie, came as part of a prix fixe available all weekend: an appetizer, a main course, and a glass of wine or a soda for $17.95. Here, "gaucho pie" is code for "empanada," a bubbly pastry exterior shielding moist beef interspersed with salty slivers of green olives. Like the United States, Argentina reveres its cowboys, generally known as gauchos, although the term may also refer to anyone who lives in the rural Pampas. Anyway, they make a fine pie.
When in an Argentine steakhouse . . . so we ordered skirt steak, which came with forgettable pork sausage and fries, part of the aforementioned prix fixe. The tenderness of the steak prompted much discussion of how much butter must have been used on the hand-sized slab before us. The steak had less mineral tang than we would have liked, but at this price you can't have everything.
We were both given steak knives, although we didn't really need one for our grilled snapper ($21). The whole fish had been sliced, stuffed with cubes of peppers, onions, and crab, then slapped on the grill. A rich sauce made the dish juicier, and tempered some of the fishiness. In our experience, conversation moves in inverse proportion to the amount of bones a dish has; as we ate this one, we didn't speak a word.
La Cabaña is remarkably consistent in its rustic patriotism. The one discordant note came in the form of many: the 1980s-era Top 40 on the radio. Wham! never helped anyone's digestion. Still, we found this restaurant a respite from the car shops, large grocery stores, and other signs of modernity in this particular part of Jackson Heights. La Cabaña is best for: a date with a cowboy, lonesome or otherwise.
86-07 Northern Boulevard, Queens NY 11372 (map) 718-426-5977