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Latin Touch Strikes Chez Henri Fried Treats A Tasty Reminder Of Home Caribbean Place Offers Tasty Items From Three Countries
Latin Touch Strikes Chez Henri
Wesley Morris, and Amy Graves, Globe Staff
August 13, 2004
The Boston Globe
This town isn't exactly teeming with places to get a Latin fix, and, depending on where you go, you might be disappointed in the paltry number of Latinos dining around you. Plus, some places, in an attempt to master Latin cooking, just wind up condescending to it.
Of course, the idea of Chez Henri, the Franco-Cuban bistro just north of Harvard Square, "going Latin" might be cheeky overkill, like McDonald's slipping a Prozac into every Happy Meal. But it also means you can't go wrong.
While continuing to serve from its beloved regular menu, Chez Henri has been putting on a Latin dinner series for the past five summers. For $39, you can choose an appetizer and an entree (there are two of each on the menu), and when that's over, there's the dessert menu to pore over. So far, the sole Latin dessert has been a pineapple-rum-sauce-soaked banana rice pudding that will have you bouncing off the walls. (Get it while you can - the dessert menu changes Sunday.)
The Latin dinner menu has a case of wanderlust. Every couple of weeks or so, it has hopped to a new region. We're sad to report that you've already missed Colombia and Venezuela. We're sadder to tell you how good the clam stew and breaded pork cutlet were. But you still have this weekend to try the cuisines of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. (Next week, the menu jumps to Argentina and Cuba, and it might continue into September with the cuisines of Peru and Chile.)
The great thing about this series is its apparent authenticity. It's real enough not to have to prove itself. Neither the entrees nor the appetizers are elaborate or fussed over.On the Puerto Rico- Dominican Republic menu, though, there's a salt cod that stands as a delicious exception. The fish is bedded in a cornmeal crust, nestled inside a banana leaf, steamed, then served with "traditional" Puerto Rico salsa. (Excuse us, but no Puerto Rican home we've been to has had salsa this elaborate - or at least with this many capers.)
Like salsa, red beans and rice are repertory fixtures. It's just a question of costars. For Venezuela and Colombia, it was the pork cutlet. This week, it's a hen, and the more said about it the better. For one thing, you can trust a hen. Chickens lately seem to be on steroids, and there's often not a lot a chef can do to make them seem less like Gold's Gym bunnies. So when the hen appears before you at a proper, natural size, your first impulse might be to treasure the moment.
It's far more explosive in the eating. For one thing, the bird has been marinated in rum, which you can still taste, then seared to a partial crisp, and, finally, spread with a sweet papaya glaze. The beans and rice seem like an afterthought. Still, surrounded with red onion hoops, they're one of the punchier afterthoughts you can eat. The red snapper, with plantains and ceviche, ain't bad, either.
The main dining room at Chez Henri is strangely funky (it's the light fixtures). Diners tend to be on their best behavior, unless you're in the adjacent bar, which most nights can be counted on to have at least one band of carousers. Despite them, the seasonal, exotic tone is there, and the food in this Latin series is so persuasive you might feel like a tourist in your own neighborhood.
Chez Henri, One Shepard St., Cambridge, 617-354-8980
Fried Treats A Tasty Reminder Of Home
Viviana Carballo | Special to the Sentinel
August 11, 2004
From cooking to customs, the Spanish-speaking Caribbean nations have many things in common. It's no surprise, because we share an almost identical past.
The Taino Indians were the native inhabitants of the islands that were conquered by the Spanish crown. Once this population was annihilated through disease and forced labor, the Spanish imported African slaves to work the fields.
We are a community of fusion and share a gastronomy of similar flavors and well-defined personality.
The base for this cookery, called cocina criolla (Creole cooking), is a variety of ingredients and native products, such as yuca, corn, boniato (a type of sweet potato), and the great diversity of preparation styles from the native barbecue to the Spanish way with frying.
African slaves added gandules (pigeon peas) and the indispensable plantains to this melting pot of slaves. With all the similarities, each island has its own food specialties.
Puerto Rico's distinctive dishes include the marvelous asopao (a soupy rice dish), pasteles, piononos and pinons (all made with plantains). Mofongo (plantain mash) is similar to Cuban fufu (combo of semi-ripe and green plantains) and to the Dominican Republic's mangu (often includes small chunks of cooked pork or shrimp).
Mofongo is made with green plantains which are first fried -- as opposed to boiled, as is the case with both the fufu and the mangu -- and then mashed together with fried pork rinds. Small balls are made from this savory mash and fried in garlic oil.
A fritanga, loosely translated as a fry feast, is not complete without bacalaitos (salt cod fritters), alcapurrias (fried mash of plantains and root vegetables stuffed with spicy ground meat), almojabanas (fritter of rice flour) and crispy fried pork rinds.
Add to that mix surullitos, cylinder-shaped fritters made from corn meal mush and grated cheese. These fried treats are served with a mayonnaise-and-ketchup sauce.
Bul (bool) is a refreshing drink for washing down all those fried items. In a large pitcher, mix a bottle of beer, two small bottles of ginger ale or 7Up, two tablespoons sugar (or less to taste) and the juice of two lemons. Add ice, stir and serve.
A walk in a Puerto Rican park must include piragua (shaved ice with tropical fruit syrup). And speaking of sweets, there is nothing like coconut kisses, sweet corn meal or sesame-seed bars.
Caribbean Place Offers Tasty Items From Three Countries
Candide Jones, SPECIAL TO RELISH
August 19, 2004
Caribbean Restaurant - the name says it all ... or most of it.
The food is Caribbean - specifically from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
The menu doesn't include all varieties of Caribbean food. Most notably, there is no zesty Jamaican cuisine with its Scotch Bonnet peppers and sweet-hot spices. Nevertheless, the menu is long enough for repeated forays.
These three cuisines have their own similarities and specialties, but the most noticeable likeness among them is starch. Plantains, for example, are everywhere on the menu, joined by such starchy staples as rice and red and black beans.
All three cuisines have roots in Spanish cooking, accented by indigenous native foods. The menu, which is in Spanish and English, gives each cuisine its own spot, but the Dominican Republic gets the most ink, with dozens of different dishes.
Much of the food tastes like family cooking, which I say as a compliment.
My two favorite dishes were Cuban. Ropa vieja is a traditional beef stew, and one bite tells you why it is so beloved in Cuba. Ropa vieja means "old clothes," and the beef is cooked until it is so tender that it literally falls apart, like rags.
The shredded meat is flavored with olives, green peppers, onions, tomato and carrots and served with rice and beans ... pure comfort.
The second is a delicious warm Cuban sandwich stuffed with roast pork, ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle and a sweetish sauce. Served with acceptable French fries, it makes a filling lunch.
Mofongo is a national dish in Puerto Rico, described on the menu as "mashed green semi fried plantain with garlic." Hmm. Nothing to do but try it. Mofongo con camarones (mofongo with shrimp) combines chewy, thick mashed plantains filled with tiny shrimp in a mild tomato sauce.
I was surprised at the firmness - hardness, really - of the plantains, which are evidently fried first, then mashed and formed into an edible bowl liner.
I was disappointed that there was little if any garlic flavor, and in the shrimp, which tasted frozen.
The Dominican Republic's dishes range from beef tail, beef stomach, or goat served in creole sauce to chicken-pork-chop-and-chick pea soup and many kinds of seafood.
We liked the ceviche, raw seafood "cured" in lemon juice. Served in an oversize margarita glass on a bed of lettuce, chopped seafood including shrimp, octopus and mussels was mixed in a light and lemony marinade with onion, red and green peppers, and cilantro.
Longaniza Dominicana is an interesting dense, salty, coarse country sausage, fried, cut into small pieces and served with lime and ketchup.
We tried albondigas guisados (four meatballs in creole sauce), which had surprisingly little flavor. Mahi-mahi in coconut milk, however, was enjoyable in its light coconut-and-lime sauce.
Most entrees come with rice and very good black or red beans, and some with a salad, which was basically iceberg lettuce and pallid tomatoes.
I'll go back to try a number of dishes that sounded intriguing, including carne rellena (beef stuffed with carrot and hard salami) and the two versions of paella.
Caribbean Restaurant is divided into a nonsmoking dining room and a front bar area with a few booths where smoking is permitted.
The dining room is decorated simply, its white stucco walls hung with mirrors and a few pieces of colorful art.
Salsa music plays in the background. The front area has a television going all the time, and the fluorescent lights don't encourage lingering.
From the bar comes a full line of beers, domestic and imported, in bottles and on draft. The wine list is small, but includes some South American wines that are fun to try. The restaurant also serves juices in such flavors as guava, coconut, tamarind and mango.
Desserts are sweet and generally good, especially the flan de coco, a very dense, intense dark creme caramel with coconut flavor. We also liked the tres leche cake, made with three milks - evaporated, condensed and cream; it had a moist, coarse crumb. Flan de leche is less intense than the flan de coco, but it too is sturdy and enjoyable.
The desserts listed are seldom uniformly available.
It's good to see the restaurants in Winston-Salem continue to open new culinary doors for area diners, and it's fun to sit here in a dining room full of English and Spanish speakers, trying foods that haven't been on local menus before now.
The quality of food here is uneven, with some choices poetic - that ragged Cuban stew! Some are disappointing - those minuscule shrimp in the thick tasteless plantains.
Nevertheless, Caribbean Restaurant serves up new flavors that deserve to be tried.
Candide Jones can be reached at email@example.com
* * 1/2 (out of four)
Address: 1345 Lockland Ave., Winston-Salem
Hours: Open seven days. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Reservations: Not necessary
Type of cuisine: Cuban, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rican
Alcohol: All ABC permits
Smoking: Smoking and nonsmoking sections
Health-department rating: 91 percent
Price range: Entrees from $6 to $23.75
Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa
Atmosphere: Simple and plain
The wait: Usually none
Noise level: Background music and television
Service: Fairly good
What people wear: Casual
Be sure to try: Ropa vieja, Black beans, Cuban pork sandwich, ceviche
Stay away from: Bland salad; tiny tasteless shrimp
Vegetarian friendly? Yes
Accessibility for the handicapped: All one level
Will I go back? Yes
Fine dining: - poor; - average; - good; - excellent.
Casual dining: - poor; - average; - good; - excellent.