My SO and I finally tried Casa de Elian this past Friday night. Overall I think this place has a lot of potential and clearly has a good sensibility when it comes to the food. We really enjoyed our meal. I think the biggest downsides are that some of the aspects of the atmosphere needs improvement to really make it a more fun destination.
First, the good part - the food was really good. We ordered quite a bit to get a sense of what they had to offer. We started with guacamole which was very fresh. I'm not usually a big fan of tomatoes in guacamole but they added a nice sweetness and a bit of acidity that we liked. We also had two tacos - one carnitas and the other fried tilapia. We liked these but thought they both lacked a little flavor though the hot sauce served on the side helped. These were probably the items we were least fond of.
Then for mains we had the chicken mole with a side of the baked beans and the beef enchiladas with a side of rice (the Mexican-style rice, though they also offer white rice). The mole was delicious - really deep flavor and it was served on chicken breast that was perfectly cooked, not dry at all. The beans were really tasty in a nice rich broth. We thought the beef enchiladas were great, probably our favorite part of the meal. They were bathed in a tomatillo sauce that was excellent and had some crumbled queso and crema on top.
For dessert we had the flan which had a nice burnt caramel taste to it. The only downside was that it was served with what was clearly out of the can whipped cream. I would suggest forget the whipped cream, the flan doesn't need it anyways.
It's BYOB at the moment while they wait on their liquor license. I think once they get the bar in it will feel more festive because right now there is just the empty bar and exposed brick where I imagine the shelving will be put. The owner (think it's the owner) was at the bar working on his laptop which made it feel a little odd.
The atmosphere itself needs a bit of a push. They need to turn down the lighting and the music could use an overhaul. They were mostly playing what sounded like traditional Mexican or Latin American music but the tempo was really slow and so it felt a bit staid. If they want to keep it traditional, it needs to be a bit louder and faster or instead just go with fun rock/alt rock music. At one point The Outfield came on and it felt kind of silly and retro but it works. Hey, if Babbo can keep Radiohead on the playlist then music like that can work in much less formal settings.
The other thing are the chairs. I appreciate them trying to go for a more casual, rough hewn look but the chairs look (and feel) a lot like unfinished and unsanded furniture.
So all in all - I'm happy to see a place like this in Forest Hills. We need something more adult with serious cooking (to break away from the chain restaurant mentality around here). I hope they'll tweak the atmosphere a bit because this place has a lot of potential.