I am by no means an expert in Latino cuisine, but I know one thing for sure – I love it. Sure, I’ve tried my hand (with the help of Goya) at making Latino recipes at home, but I know when I really want to eat some good stuff I have to go out for it. Growing up in the Elizabeth, NJ area, there were no shortages of Latino eateries – great little Cuban luncheonettes where you could get an awesome Cubano sandwich. Later on, lived in Weehawkin, NJ, surrounded by West New York and Union City, where these charming little eateries sometimes only had the menu in their native language and I’d feast on black beans and rice. Ahh…good times.
So, moving down to Upper Monmouth County, land of the chain restaurant, has been an interesting challenge to the palate. Naturally when I heard all of the buzz over at my favorite food board, Chowhound, about a new Puerto Rican eatery in Matawan, I needed to get there. Fast. I headed there this past Saturday night and had a late seating, around 9:30 p.m. Had called earlier and confirmed they were serving til 10:00 p.m. Cute, little place in a strip mall. Nice decor inside as well. Fantastic music playing.
We ordered one appetizer, Papa Rellenas, Stuffed Potatoes with Beef. These are deep-fried balls with mashed potatoes inside and a seasoned beef center. The appetizer was two generous servings. The presentation I thought was a bit weak. They were on a very large plate and had what looked like someones leftover salad thrown across the plate. I think a smaller plate or bowl, maybe with some sort of dipping sauce could have helped. The flavors were pretty good, nicely seasoned and then as I got to the center of mine – coldness. Mine had not been heated all the way through. Very disappointing.
Meanwhile the waiter had stopped at our table to let us know that the beef for the Ropa Vieja my husband had ordered had went bad and they didn’t have anymore. What is wrong with me? We should have left right then and there. I think that’s one of the worst things you could tell a diner – food went bad in the kitchen. How gross. Just say you ran out. How many people were served this dish before they deemed it bad? Just too nasty to think about.
So he ordered the Pork Chops instead and I went with the Skirt Steak. The Pork Chops had a otherwise good sauce on it but the meat was dry according to my husband. My steak was chewy and difficult to cut. I really only managed a few bites before deciding it was just bad. We both ordered yellow rice and black beans. The rice, an enormous serving, was dry and flavorless. It also had a few pieces of some sort of sausage with a perfumy aftertaste (meaning not good). The black beans had no discerning flavor to them at all. The fried plantains were lukewarm, some even cold, and very thick. Anywhere I’ve had them before and upon researching various online sources, shows plaintains to be flattened out before their second frying. These were about an inch or more thick each.
I thought after this terrible meal, is it just me, no it can’t be. So many people on chowhound raved, but upon further investigation I noticed about three of those reviewers had posted once ever on chowhound – for this restaurant’s thread…interesting, no? Was it an off-night for the place? Was it because we went so late? I don’t know, nor do I care, because I will not be heading back there again. I’ve also learned recently on Chowhound another Puerto Rican eatery has opened in Keansburg with two positive reviews. I’ll give it a shot. After all, the folks over at Chowhound led me to The Flakey Tart…