El Ay Si

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Photograph: Lizz Kuehl
El Ay Si's French-toast sandwich; Photographs: Lizz Kuehl
Long Island City

Comfort food has had an astounding rise in New York’s dining scene, and the chatter about who makes the best hamburger, fried chicken or pizza has reached critical mass. The owners of the narrow, low-lit Long Island City newcomer El Ay Si are among the latest to jump on the bandwagon. Despite enthusiastic and attentive service, the kitchen—led by chef Christopher Frakes (The E.U.)—bungles dish after dish. Chicken chowder, creamy with diced vegetables and cubes of meat, had the flat flavor and saltiness one associates with a canned product. A juicy rib-eye steak, coated in a rub of red-pepper flakes, porcini-mushroom powder and brown sugar, was perhaps the best thing we ate—but even that was marred by an overcharred crust. The glorified chicken fingers (dubbed “chicken-fried chicken”) were dry, and while the accompanying mashed potatoes were smooth and light, a topping of white gravy tasted like packaged cream of mushroom soup. Desserts were as flawed as the savory foods. The menu offered no clue as to what was so unconventional about the “twisted” apple cobbler, so a waitress explained that it contained scallions; we didn’t find a single piece of onion in the dish, but perhaps it was responsible for its off-putting mustiness. Pineapple upside-down cake (a special) was indistinguishable from one made with boxed batter mix and yellow rings from a tin. It also offered a valuable lesson: The current obsession with comfort foods is about eating versions of dishes that remind us of what we cherished in our childhoods, not replicas of the industrial junk that many of us actually ate.—TONY

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Venue name: El Ay Si
Contact:
Address: 47-38 Vernon Blvd
Queens

Cross street: between 47th Rd and 48th Ave
Opening hours: Tue–Thu 11am–3pm, 6–10pm; Fri 11am–3pm, 6–11pm; Sat 11:30am–3:30pm, 6–11pm; Sun 11:30am–3:30pm, 6–10pm
Transport: Subway: 7 to Vernon Blvd–Jackson Ave
Price: Average main course: $16. AmEx, MC, V
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