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Puerto Rican Cuisine Gets Raves Passion For Flavors Raul's Basks In Bold, Authentic Cuisine
Puerto Rican Cuisine Gets Raves
A new restaurant specializing in authentic Puerto Rican cuisine has opened in west Hollywood.
BY MARCIA FREIDENREICH
July 18, 2004
Ramos learned to cook the old-fashioned way, in her grandmother Maria's kitchen in Puerto Rico.
Now Ramos, who owns My Tierra Rotisserie and Grill restaurant in Hollywood with her husband Juan, serves those dishes to her customers, many of them from Puerto Rico, too.
Recently, Wanda Cruz, Chris Ramos and Miguel Rosario, all of Hallandale Beach and all natives of Puerto Rico, dined on appetizers like chicken and vegetable soup with a side of mofongo (a combination of mashed plantains and spices), as well as pechuga asada (marinated grilled chicken breast with habichuelas rosadas frijoles, or pink beans and rice in a special sauce).
''We've been looking for a good restaurant that serves Puerto Rican food, and everything we've had so far is very good,'' said Cruz as she spooned bits of mofongo into her soup.
Rosario said he plans to return to try the cuajitos, a traditional Puerto Rican dish made with pork belly.
''When customers come through the door they smell the authentic Puerto Rican food,'' said Ramos. ``We see some customers actually licking their fingers and saying they are so glad to have found an authentic Puerto Rican restaurant. Some call their friends on cellphones while they are eating to tell them to come over.''
''We haven't even advertised yet,'' said Sara, 20, the Ramos' daughter, who works in the restaurant. ``We're getting a lot of business through word-of-mouth. There are a lot of Puerto Rican people who live nearby who are starting to find out about us.''
Elizabeth Ramos encourages everyone, even those new to Puerto Rican food, to sample the restaurant's dishes, which are all made from scratch.
''We go to Miami once a week to get fresh produce and herbs imported from Puerto Rico,'' she said.
The restaurant, on U.S. 441, has been open for two months. It's a true family business, where even the Ramos' youngest daughter, Jamie, 7, helps out by peeling garlic in the kitchen and stocking refrigerator cases with traditional sodas from Puerto Rico. The Ramos' 25-year-old son, also named Juan, is a chef at My Tierra.
''Juan graduated as an American chef from Atlantic Technical College, but he's learning to cook Puerto Rican cuisine here at the restaurant,'' Elizabeth Ramos said. ``My grandmother taught me everything I know about cooking, and now I'm teaching Juan.''
After they moved to the U.S. mainland, the family unsuccessfully sought a place that made traditional Puerto Rican food.
''This is our dream, to open a truly authentic Puerto Rican restaurant,'' Ramos said.
The restaurant's logo includes the Taino Indian symbol of the earth (``tierra''). The Tainos are the first native people of Puerto Rico.
The menu includes appetizers, salads, house specialties, a grill menu and delectable desserts. Puerto Rican beer is also available.
Showing Sincere Passion For Puerto Rican Flavors Raul's Basks In Bold, Authentic Cuisine
July 22, 2004
WITH ETHNIC restaurants burgeoning in Atlanta, the question often arises: Do the chefs tweak their cuisines for American palates or do they go totally authentic? If you ask Raul Thomas, co-owner of the restaurant bearing his name, he'll tell you unhesitatingly and with passion: "To understand a particular culture, it is best to eat what the natives eat."
And going native is exactly what Thomas is endeavoring to create at Raul's, which opened recently in Marietta. "I'm trying to fill a void in the Latin culture in Atlanta by including flavors of Puerto Rico," he said. Those flavors are not just from food but also from ambience. Sky blues and bright yellows are the predominant colors, Puerto Rican art fills the walls, other artifacts are placed throughout the restaurant and a saltwater tank stands in the entrance.
Dining is casual --- "I want to attract families and people from all walks of life" --- but Thursday through Saturday evenings, beginning at 9 p.m., the restaurant rocks with Latin music and dance. A stage showcases the island's musical instruments, and a dance floor encourages diners to jump into the rhythm of salsa, merengue and other dances. A live band plays every Saturday and salsa lessons begin at 8 p.m.
Born in Puerto Rico, Thomas grew up in New York and went to Matthews Culinary School, later cheffing at Tavern on the Green, in the private dining room of Shearson Lehman in the World Trade Center and at the Masters School, a private boarding school in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. He also owned Catering by Raul in the Bronx from 1995 to 2001 before deciding to move to Atlanta. Thomas was the first Puerto Rican executive chef for Georgia State University --- until last year, when he opened Raul's Latin American Cafe in Austell. He closed it to open his new restaurant.
Thomas' co-owner is Steven Gatt, who was a frequent diner at Thomas' Austell location. Believing in Thomas' dream of an authentic Puerto Rican restaurant highlighting various aspects of the country's culture, Gatt sold his UPS Store to work full-time at Raul's as general manager and bartender.
As chef, Thomas has taken his mother's recipes and interpreted them in his way. Interestingly, he uses no chiles but relies on herbs and spices to bring out the flavors in his dishes. At lunch there are such items as tapas (empanadas, codfish fritters, mofongo), soups (tripe), salads (octopus) and sandwiches (Raul's sandwich, which is eggs, chorizo and mozzarella on Spanish loaf bread). At dinner a full menu offers such dishes as roast pork and the Chef's Favorite, a marinated lobster tail stuffed with shrimp, onions, peppers, mushrooms, mozzarella cheese (the Italian cheese is widely used in Puerto Rico) and red sauce. Tapas, served at lunch, are also served Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Cuba's cuisine is very similar to Puerto Rico's, and there are many marriages between the countries (Thomas' wife is from Cuba), so Thomas has included a Cuban sandwich on the menu. In another bow to Cuba, he's dubbed one of his bars Papa's Mojito Bar --- it serves mojitos and other national drinks. A mojito, made with Bacardi rum, mint leaves and sugar, originated in Cuba but is popular in Puerto Rico. There's also a Tiki Bar with 24 beer selections, including 10 drafts.
Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Sunday. Dinner 4 p.m.-midnight Sunday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday-Saturday. 1150 Powder Springs St. 770-745-3200, www.raulslatinamericancafe.com.