Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Cuba sabrosa

Beat the travel ban with El Bohio’s mofongo

Posted on Wed, Apr 1, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Release Date: 2009-04-01

Ufff. I shouldn’t have eaten all that yuca frita. The “tasty homemade garlic sauce” is really just processed garlic in oil when you get right down to it, but the irregular chunks of this starchy tuber are crisp on the exterior, creamy on the interior — and they’re irresistible.  

Especially when the rest of the appetizers are so tardy. Don’t know what happened here. True, despite the presence of a lunch buffet, we ordered off the menu, but  that should only have freed the kitchen to work on a-la-carte orders. Moral: Don’t be in a hurry — or go for the buffet.  

Another word of caution: Beware the pasteles, subtitled “Puertorican tamales.” I have liked the puppies in the past, but today’s model, released from its banana-leaf wrapping, was merely funky, not hauntingly herbal or enticingly tropical. Nope, just funky, and we all tried very hard, even to the extent of prizing the pork filling out of its grey-green banana/masa cloak. 

In addition to root vegetables such as yuca and yautia, the green banana, or plantain, is a foundation of Puertorican cooking. We had them as patacones, smashed and twice fried, and they’re great with El Bohio’s Mexican-influenced green sauce. We also ate them with alcapurrias, an imposing torpedo of plantain masa stuffed with a savory beef picadillo — also good with the green sauce. We had them fried and assembled into the daunting, dome-shaped mofongo studded with fried pork, accompanied by more of same, and enhanced with garlic. (The mofongo is good on its own, but more green sauce can’t hurt.) They were served as the “bread” in a sandwich called El Plátano Loco, which presented roasted pork, grilled ham, and melted swiss between fried slabs of the stuff … yes, more sauce (or garlic oil), for the plátano in this instance was a little dry.  

You may or may not be happy to know that no bananas of any type figure in El Bohio’s excellent Cuban pressed sandwich. Its filling of ham, roasted pork, swiss, pickle, and mustard is classic, the bread is perfect, and no green sauce was used or needed. Nor were enhancements required for the seriously spiced ropa vieja I sampled on a previous visit. I counted seven bay leaves (you know not to eat these, of course) in my serving of this Caribbean staple featuring shredded beef stewed with bell peppers, olives, tomato, and more. El Bohio’s was the best rendition I’ve had in a very long time, and it was a natural with the yellow-tinted rice spangled with gandules (pigeon peas). This rice may look deceptively like the more familiar Mexican version, but be advised that it has much more flavor. Be further advised that the optional white rice has much more butter and that the Caribbean equivalent of charro beans also packs a flavor punch.

There’s also a visual similarity between the ceviches of Mexico’s coast and the seafood cocktail served at El Bohio — there’s lots of red and green, with avocado and cilantro being a common denominator. But red and green bell peppers take the copa in another direction, and the conch or octopus (we had a mixture) that supplies the seafood component is marinated in oil, not lime and white vinegar. We liked it.

El Bohio’s Colombian offerings will have to wait for another time, as will its Mexican mini taquito plate. Dessert will have to wait for a day in which we haven’t eaten all our yuca frita, but just in case you’d like to file this away, vanilla and cheese flans, cheesecake, and a blend of the two called flancocho are available. Normally, we would have tried the imported sodas and juices, but we never got to the back of the menu on either trip. Check out Malta, Coco Rico, and juices such as passion fruit and the perfumy guanábana.

And if you’re a salsa sort, you might like to know that the same owners operate the Old San Juan Restaurant & Discotek on Walzem Road. It’s open later, live bands are featured on weekends, and there’s a Domingo de Domino that evokes images of old men hunched over ivory tiles in a palm-shaded public park. The action may be updated, but we suspect it’s just as a much a part of the culture as plátanos


El Bohio
1127 Harry Wurzbach Rd.
(210) 822-8075

The SKINNY Plátanos in every imaginable form — fried, mashed, used as masa — are the foundation of much of  El Bohio’s cuisine, also distinguished by great ropa vieja and a classic sandwich Cubano. Bathrooms not accessible.

DON’T MISS The Cuban sandwich and the yuca frita

Hours 9am-6pm Mon-Sat

Prices Entrées  $5.99-$13.50

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