National Route 40, or Ruta 40, is kind of the Argentinian equivalent of Route 66 — a 3,100-mile road that runs the entire length of the country and figures in the cultural imagination as a symbol of wide open spaces, geographic diversity and splendor, the vastness of the nation.
R40 is an Argentinian restaurant that opened a few weeks ago in Long Island City, along that part of Vernon Boulevard that functions as a sort of Main Street for residents in all those gleaming towers by the river. It's the second neighborhood restaurant from Miriam Dominguez and Giovanni Porto, who also run the Cuban spot Madera.
Porto is the executive chef at R40, and, although no one directly involved in the operation is Argentinian, his step-father is from that country, and he apparently designed the concept as an homage to the man. There's lots of meat involved here, of course, grilled on a large, wood-burning parrilla, as well as other Argentina menu mainstays such as Empanadas, Milanesas, and Gnocchi.
The space is expansive and rustic in a way that suggests downtown cool more than a remote estancia. There's seating for about 60 at tables running from the front door through a couple of dining areas and all the way past the open kitchen in the back. Come spring a backyard patio will offer an additional dining option.
The lighting is more romantic, and the prices higher than your typical family-friendly spot, but when we were there several tables were busy with kids playing on their iPads. The locals are clearly excited about having somewhere new to eat, and on prime time Sunday night the roaring parrilla played to a nearly full house.
All of the elements seem to be in place for R40 to become a neighborhood hit, but the food still needs some work. The menu pushes the Parrillada For Two hard, and my Argentinian companion and I complied. This is a meaty feast, with strips of nicely-cooked skirt steak and hunks of short rib sharing space with unmemorable chorizo, crumbly morcilla, and a single, dry chicken thigh. It's a tough trick to deliver all of these at their proper points of respective doneness, and the kitchen hasn't quite mastered it.
Despite the $68 price tag on the Parrillada, our server couldn't resist upselling us with an additional side of Papas Provencal. We went with it after a promise that they were worth the extra eight bucks, but you should resist. These spuds are soggy and buried unimaginatively under raw garlic. Better are the generously-stuffed baked Empanadas, either the Crab and Shrimp or the Mushroom and Spinach Alfredo.
There are a number of salads and starters, including a Lengua a la Vinagreta, a pretty-looking plate of Arroz Negro with prawns, and, our choice, the disc of fried cheese known as Provoleta which, tragically, had spent too long at the pass and landed cold and hard on our table. A few pastas and some single-meat platos fuertes round off the menu. There are lots of wines from Argentina, plenty of beers on tap, and a full cocktail program.
R40 is located at 47-16 Vernon Boulevard, between 47th Road and 47th Avenue, and is open Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m. (718-440-9484; r40lic.com)