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El Coqui Offers A Piece Of Puerto Rico Step Into El Tango For Unusual Tastes Latino Flavor
El Coqui Offers A Piece Of Puerto Rico
July 15, 2004
El Coqui Puerto Rican cuisine restaurant
Type of business: Puerto Rican cuisine
Owner: Ruben and Margo Lopez-Ruiz
Founded: May 2004
Address: 509 W. Second St., Antioch
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 9 p.m.; closed Monday.
Products, services: Puerto Rican cuisine, including specialty items of paella, stuffed potato appetizers, salmon in red sauce, seafood soup, all for eat in or take-out. The lunch menu includes some lighter dishes, including a Caribbean hamburger with Dijon mustard and Swiss cheese, Caribbean lettuce wraps, steak sandwiches and more.
"We also make the holiday (dish) of tamales. Because they are so hard to make, usually people only make them during the holidays, but since my sister does such a great job on them, we serve them all the time," Margo Lopez-Ruiz said.
How did you get into the business? Margo started in the restaurant business in the 1970s when she owned her own restaurant and nightclub in Pittsburg. When the city of Pittsburg redeveloped her property to allow for the extension of the railroad lines, she closed her business and went to work for Los Medanos College. Still working in the restaurant service business all of these years, Margo kept doing work with her cooking including some catering work. When the opportunity presented itself, she decided to open another restaurant.
Best thing about the business: "The restaurant has been so well-received by the community," Lopez-Ruiz said. "People make so many wonderful comments about the food and the restaurant itself. I couldn't be happier with the way it is turning out."
She also said that many people are coming from out of the area to sample her unique Puerto Rican restaurant. "It is so great that people are coming from so far out of the way, like Pacifica, just to come to our restaurant," she said.
Worst thing about it: "In the beginning, we did kind of a soft opening where we wound up having a two-hour wait for people to come in because so many people came and then we ran out of food," Lopez-Ruiz said. "Some people have come back since who couldn't get in. I'm hoping others will try us now, as well."
Keys to success: "Training and hiring the right staff is very important. We also have good suppliers and that is important for success," Lopez-Ruiz said. She also said that it is important for the food to be priced reasonably and to have a unique and beautiful restaurant. "We have gotten a lot of compliments about the way that we look. People like the decorations and the pictures on the wall," she said.
Biggest misconception about the business: Some people confuse Puerto Rican food with Mexican food and there is a big difference between the two, according to Lopez-Ruiz. She said there are many common dishes like beans and rice that are made very different. She also said that the spices that are used are different and add a different flavor.
Some people also think that Puerto Rican food is too spicy for their taste. She said that they don't make their food overly spicy, just "flavorful."
Future plans: They have just finished phase one of their restaurant. Phase two is adding outdoor patio seating for eating and adding a special Sunday brunch that will offer Puerto Rican dancing and entertainment. This weekend they will increase their weekend hours to include lunch and be open at noon instead of 4 p.m. when they were opening before.
Step Into El Tango For Unusual Tastes
By NICOLE TSONG Anchorage Daily News
July 16, 2004
There are many interesting elements to a meal at new Latin eatery El Tango, but one of the most delightful and surprising treats is a chef who strolls into the dining room and fills the restaurant with a sonorous baritone.
On a recent hot evening, he provided welcome entertainment, singing two arias before sauntering back into the kitchen.
Not every place can boast of a baritone in the kitchen. Then again, most restaurants also don't offer kidney and sweetbread on their menus.
At El Tango, on the corner of Tudor Road and Old Seward Highway, prices edge toward fine dining despite the family-style meals, and service is still uneven. But interesting dishes can go far, and those who relish the chance to try delicacies like blood sausage should give El Tango a try.
The dining area is a mix of casual and formal. Eaves over the windows give the interior a patio feel. A painting of a couple tangoing takes up a large portion of one wall. But white tablecloths and tiny lamps with beaded fruit on every table give El Tango an upscale feel.
On the night a friend and I had dinner, there was much merrymaking by a party of about a dozen. The effusive server added to the comfortable atmosphere when we could get her attention, which wasn't often.
The menu is split into three categories: Argentina, Colombia and Puerto Rico. The restaurant calls itself an Argentinean steakhouse, and vegetarians should avoid it. The Argentinean menu lists only meat, with options including veal kidneys and beef short ribs. The Colombian adds stews and shredded beef, and the Puerto Rican brings in seafood paella and roasted pork. The wine selection also is slim, although sangria is available.
We thought a taste from every country would be the best approach but were thwarted by Colombia, in which the most enticing stews are only available on certain weekend days. We had to forgo a Colombian entree.
We started with the Salpicon de Mariscos for $9.95. The menu touted oysters and shrimp with fried plantains. The plantains were by far the best element of the dish, crisp and chewy and soaked in the garlic mojito sauce. The dish came with mussels instead of oysters and with a decent pile of tiny scallops in addition to two shrimp, all of which nicely accompanied the delicious plantains.
I also ordered a Colombian empanada for $2 to make up for no Colombian entrees. The hot and crunchy corn pocket pie was satisfying, filled with ground beef and potatoes and seasoned with curry. A cilantro-based sauce came on the side.
For the Argentinian dish, I wanted the Milanesa, breaded beef marinated with garlic and parsley, for $17.95. It also came Neapolitana style, which for $19.95 added ham and cheese and a tomato-based sauce, which looked rich, but our server enthused about the latter version, so I said yes. She also advocated french fries over the baked potato, and I complied again.
I wish I had ordered it plain with the baked potato. When our food arrived, my plate held an enormous piece of meat, three times the average serving size, with a layer of ham and a mound of melted cheese, topped with a couple of tomatoes and a small circle of the tomato, onion and pimento sauce. A generous pile of french fries sat next to the meat.
Though indulgent, the breaded beef was fairly tender, and generally you can't go too wrong with melted cheese. The red sauce gave more zip to the overall flavor. But after a few bites, the size and richness became overwhelming, and more sauce would have helped cut the fried beef and cheese. I later noticed a salad was supposed to have come with the dinner and would have helped alleviate worries of a heart attack.
The waitress told me when I ordered, "In this place, you will get fat." I believed her after that entree.
My friend ordered a more heart-healthful meal, the lechon asado for $22.95 from the Puerto Rican menu. The slowly roasted pork was straightforward, with no sauce, and didn't taste of much seasoning. It was soft enough, although some pieces from the roasted exterior were tougher. Her meal came with a choice of rice and red beans, yellow rice with pigeon peas or fried plantains. She took the yellow rice, which was fragrant and tasty. But for the price, we expected a little more.
My friend also ordered the paella madrilena to-go for her husband, and when it finally arrived, we were disappointed to see that the sauteed rice came with the medley of frozen vegetables found at the grocery store -- corn, carrots, lima beans and green beans. The seafood paella only had only one mussel and more of the small scallops, shrimp, chicken and beef. It seemed absurdly pricey at $24.95.
El Tango is exciting, with food unlike any other eatery in town and the joy of a singing chef, all of which deserve high marks. But execution ranges from good to mediocre, and the presentation and ingredients are not superior enough for the price. Try El Tango for a singular experience, but don't expect to be blown away.
EL TANGO RESTAURANT is at 4300 Old Seward Highway. Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 1-11 p.m. Saturday and 1-10 p.m. Sunday. Call 770-2888.
Hispanic Heritage: Latino Flavor
BY ELIO LETURIA
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
September 21, 2004
"Sabor Latino" means Latin flavor -- a mix of new and old, exotic and simple, colorful and earth-toned. All that, plus a little (or a lot) of spice.
When the Spaniards encountered the Americas on their way to India, they found a bounty of flavor. New foods challenged both European and native taste buds. The Africans arrived and brought their share. And so did the Asians.
Today, Latin American food is rich in culture, and Hispanics are passionate about it. "Where did that fruit originally come from?" and "Who created that dish?" are often topics of serious food conversations. But when it's time to eat, talk turns to sharing. At mealtime, you are likely to hear: "The house is small but the heart is big" or "My home is your home."
So in the spirit of Hispanic Heritage Month -- which started Wednesday and ends Oct. 15 -- the Free Press invites you to join a celebration of diverse cuisine.
Test your palate with our trivia game and find out how much Latino flavor lives in you.
1. Who invented the Caesar salad? a. The Argentinean cook Dona Petrona de Gandulfo b. Douglas Rodriguez, in honor of social activist Cesar Chavez c. Cesar Cardini, a Mexican restaurateur d. The chef Francesco Leonardi
2. Where do lima beans come from? a. Cuba b. Guatemala c. Paraguay d. Uruguay
3. What food company did Spanish immigrants Prudencio and Carolina Unanue start in 1936? a. Goya b. Old El Paso c. Taco Bell d. Faraon
4. What is flan? a. A Central American cocktail b. A caramel custard c. A Spanish toast with olive oil and garlic d. A creamy fruit sherbet typical of the Caribbean
5. If you ask for a tortilla in Spain, what do you get? a. A flat, thin bread b. A chocolate torte c. A corn chip d. An omelet
6. What do the words "dulce de leche," "manjar blanco," "cajeta" and "arequipe" refer to? a. Appetizers b. Soups c. Entrees d. Desserts
7. In a Cuban sandwich, what should you expect? a. Chorizo and fried plantains on cornbread b. Shredded chicken, avocado and blue cheese on an onion roll c. Roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles on grilled French bread d. Turkey, lettuce, mayo and black bean sauce on a flour tortilla
8. Mexicans have tortillas. Salvadorans have pupusas. What would the equivalent for Colombians and Venezuelans be? a. Arepa b. Pan concha c. Gordita d. Mollete
9. Match the following dishes with the proper country: a. Mofongo b. Mangu c. Pabellon Criollo d. Carapulca
1. Dominican Republic 2. Venezuela 3. Peru 4. Puerto Rico
10. If you're in Mexico City and ask for a steak taco, what will you most likely get: a. A grilled corn tortilla with steak, onions and cilantro b. A grilled flour tortilla with steak, onions and lettuce c. A fried corn tortilla with steak, onions, tomatoes and cheese d. A grilled corn tortilla with steak, onions, tomatoes, cheese and lettuce
11. What is the basic ingredient that offers flavor and color to the Spanish paella? a. Achiote b. Paprika c. Saffron d. Tomatillo
12. Chipotle is a Mexican chile. Describe it. a. A pasilla pepper that has been dehydrated b. A smoked jalapeno pepper c. A sauteed habanero pepper d. A canned serrano pepper
13. When fish is marinated in lime juice and mixed with onions and chiles, what popular Latin American appetizer do you get? a. Bacalaito b. Escabeche c. Curanto d. Ceviche
14. Gallo pinto (spotted rooster) is the national dish of what country? a. Panama b. Ecuador c. Nicaragua d. Costa Rica
15. Gazpacho is a Spanish soup, usually served cold. What are the main ingredients? a. Eggplant, onions, tomatoes b. Cucumbers, garlic, tomatoes c. Celery, onions, zucchini d. Carrots, squash, celery
16. What is an empanada? a. A pork tamale b. A chimichanga covered in cheese c. Fried green plantains d. A turnover
17. Guava, avocado, tomato, potato, vanilla, corn, pineapple, mango and papaya are widely used in Latin American cooking. Which is not native to the Americas? a. Potato b. Tomato c. Pineapple d. Mango
18. Pair the following foods with the proper countries: a. Chimichurri b. Llapingachos c. Ajiaco de pollo d. Cochinita pibil
1. Argentina 2. Mexico 3. Ecuador 4. Colombia
19. Which hot drink came to the Americas with the conquistadors? a. Mate b. Coffee c. Coca tea d. Chocolate
20. Which is the largest wine producer and consumer in Latin America? a. Argentina b. Chile c. Brazil d. Uruguay
Hispanic Food Trivia Answers
September 21, 2004
1. c. It is believed that in 1924, chef Cesar Cardini invented the Caesar salad at his Tijuana restaurant. A group of Hollywood stars had arrived, and supplies were running low. He quickly prepared the salad using romaine lettuce, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, a coddled egg, croutons, Parmesan cheese and Worcestershire sauce.
2. b. Lima beans originated in Guatemala. From there, they traveled to Mexico and the Southwest United States. They also arrived in Peru from Central America. Varieties with large seeds and large pods were developed in the warm coastal areas. The name "lima bean" came from Lima, Peru.
3. a. Goya, the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the United States, employs more than 2,000 people worldwide. Launched in New York, Goya Foods now operates more than 13 facilities in the United States, the Caribbean and Europe.
4. b. Whether you are in Spain, Mexico, Chile or Venezuela, flan is a caramel custard made with milk, sugar, eggs and vanilla, and baked in a double boiler that has caramel on the bottom. Spain claims to be the inventor of flan. In Latin America, it comes in different versions with coconut, chocolate, pineapples, mangoes and other ingredients.
5. d. In Spain and South American countries, a tortilla is an egg omelet. A Spanish tortilla is a thick potato omelet, usually cut into wedges.
6. d. Desserts. Dulce de leche in Argentina, manjar blanco in Chile and Peru, cajeta in Mexico and arequipe in Colombia are very similar desserts that can be described as a milk jam. Made by reducing milk, sugar and vanilla, this dessert is used to stuff cookies and make alfajores (see recipe), top cakes as frosting, etc.
7. c. Historians believe the Cuban sandwich comes from the Cubans who immigrated to the Ybor City area in Tampa. A great Cuban sandwich is grilled in a sandwich iron until the ham, pork and pickles have warmed in their own steam. The original sandwich is made with Cuban bread (which has lard) but French bread is acceptable.
8. a. Arepas are cornbread eaten by Colombians and Venezuelans for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pan concha is a sweet Mexican bread. Pupusa is a Salvadoran thick tortilla bread, and a gordita can be described as a thick Mexican tortilla cake. Mollete is a Spanish bread.
9. a. and 4. Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish made from smashed fried plantains and pork rinds. b. and 1. Mangu is from the Dominican Republic. It's made from pureed boiled plantains and served with sauted onions. c. and 2. Pabellon Criollo (see recipe) is a Venezuelan dish made with shredded beef, rice, black beans and fried sweet plantains. d. and 3. Carapulca is a Peruvian stew of dehydrated potatoes, chiles, pork or chicken and peanuts.
10. a . An authentic taco is a small corn tortilla with a filling (chicken, tripe, beef, pork, tongue, potatoes, goat, etc.), chopped onions and cilantro.
11. c. Saffron, or azafran in Spanish, is the most expensive spice in the world. It's contained in the reddish stigmas of the crocus flower. It takes 70,000 flowers to obtain 1 pound of saffron. Paella is a rice dish with chicken, seafood and saffron cooked in a shallow pan.
Achiote, or annatto, are seeds that offer the color but not the flavor that saffron does. It is used widely in Latin American cooking. Paprika is a powder made from ground red mild peppers. The peppers originated in the Americas, but paprika was developed in Europe. Tomatillo is a small edible fruit that is made into sauces like the popular Mexican salsa verde.
12. b. Chipotle is a smoked jalapeno pepper used to make sauces and an array of dishes. Pasilla pepper has a dark brown color and a narrow shape. It's used in tortilla soup and mole sauces. Habanero is the hottest chile in the world and is believed to have originated in Cuba (the name refers to Havana). The serrano pepper has a tubular shape and a sharp taste. It is very good in salsas.
13. d. Ceviche. It's a typical creole dish in which citric acids pickle fresh pieces of fish. Food historians have determined that it originated in the coasts of Peru where pre-Columbians ate their raw fish with chiles. When the Spanish arrived and brought citrus fruits, the dish evolved. Besides fish, ceviche (see recipe) can be made with clams, shrimp or scallops. Every Latin country has given the ceviche a particular touch by adding tomatoes, avocados, etc.
Bacalaito are Puerto Rican cod fritters. Escabeche is usually a fish dish in which the fish has been fried and then pickled in vinegar, chiles and onions. Curanto is a Chilean clambake.
14. d. Costa Rica. Gallo pinto (spotted rooster) is a dish made with rice, beans, onions, cilantro and a special sauce called Salsa Lizano (which is heavy on the tamarind). Nicaragua and Panama have their own versions of gallo pinto as well. It can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
15. b. The contemporary gazpacho is made mainly with garlic, tomatoes and cucumbers and it's very popular in the Andalusia region in Spain. Other versions include red peppers, almonds and even ham, depending on the region.
16. d. Empanadas (see recipe) are turnovers (baked or fried) that have been stuffed with different fillings, typically ground meat, onions, chiles and spices. They can also have fruit fillings and be eaten as dessert.
Empanada means "covered with bread" and each Latin American country has its own versions. Particularly famous are the Bolivian empanada Saltena (filling includes diced potatoes, meat and onions) and the Chilean empanada calduda (the filling is typically very moist).
Tamales are tasty corn dough or other starches wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves. They are very well known all over the Americas and they can contain pork, chicken, olives and chiles. Fried green plantains are called "tostones" and are a staple in Caribbean cuisine. A chimichanga is a deep-fried stuffed tortilla that originated in the American southwest or northern Mexico.
17. d. Mango. It is an aromatic, bright, fleshy fruit native to India. It was brought to America by the Portuguese. Latin Americans use it in salsas, juices and desserts. Mexicans eat mangoes with salt, lime and chiles.
18. a. and 1. Chimichurri is an Argentinean sauce made with parsley, garlic, oregano, oil and vinegar used to accompany asados (grilled meats). b. and 3. Llapingachos are potato patties with cheese, part of Ecuadoran creole cuisine. c. and 4. Ajiaco de pollo is a Colombian chicken soup with potatoes, cream, capers and corn. d. and 2. Cochinita pibil is a Mexican dish with pork, achiote and bitter orange juice.
19. b. Coffee. Native to Africa, coffee came to this part of the world via Europe. Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, Honduras, Mexico, Costa Rica and Nicaragua are the largest Latin American coffee exporters.
Mate is a native Paraguayan shrub. It's made into a tea that is drunk from a gourd. It is very popular in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
Coca tea is an Andean beverage made from coca leaves that has soothing and medicinal properties.
Chocolate was drunk by the Aztecs before the Spaniards arrived.
20. a. Argentina ranks fifth in the world after France, Italy, Spain and the United States. Malbec wine is a prestigious Argentinean wine. Argentina also leads in per capita consumption, followed by Uruguay and Chile.