Friday, June 04, 2010
Ever since I read about Mofongos, LA's only Puerto Rican restaurant from the Rants and Crave blog, I've been wanting to try their food, especially the mofongo dish the restaurant is named for. So I gathered a group of curious diners from my dining group for a trek to North Hollywood to see what the fuss was all about.
For our meal, we shared a number of dishes, family-style, that started with Bacalaítos. Bacalaitos are made up of salt cod that is first boiled or soaked to lessen its salt content and then drained, shredded, mixed with a seasoned flour batter, formed into pancakes and then deep fried. Ours was served with a wonderful garlic sauce. As for the cod itself, it just seemed like a such a heavy dish for something I expected to be more light and crispy and it was also a little dry. That garlic sauce really gave it some needed moisture and flavor.
We also shared a sampler plate that included a Pork Pastele (Puerto Rican Tamale in Banana Leaf), Relleno de Papas (Potato Balls), a Beef Alcapurria (Fried Tamale), a Pastelillos de Pollo (Chicken Dumplings) and a Pastelillos de Carne (Beef Dumplings). Both tamales were made from plantain and taro root dough, with one fried and the other steamed. Neither was that appealing. The texture and the flavor just didn't do it for me. I definitely am more of a masa kind of gal when it comes to my tamales. Both Pastelillos had a nice flaky crust and a flavorful filling. I also enjoyed the Relleno de Papas, but like the Bacalaítos, I also found them to be "heavy" in texture.
So far, the appetizers have wavered between okay and better, but nothing really wowed anyone up to that point. We were definitely looking forward to the arrival of the main entrees and soon they hit the table. First, there was the long-awaited mofongo, which we opted to get with the pork cracklings and with the Creole shrimp. If you didn't already know, mofongo is basically plantains mashed with pork cracklings, garlic and other spices. We actually had a choice of pork or chicken cracklings and now I wish we ordered one with the chicken cracklings as a comparison.
Since the mofongo was the most anticipated dish of the evening, it turned out to be the one we were all the most disappointed in. If you're a lover of salty food, this will be the perfect dish for you. After only taking a few spoonfuls, every person at our table of 9 pretty much left the mofongo alone. The dish was just so salty that it didn't seem edible to our group. I did try eating it mixed in with some white rice and the red beans and then I was able to tolerate it better, but I want to enjoy my food, not just tolerate it. Suffice to say, when it came time to take leftovers home, the mofongo stayed in its serving bowls.
We also shared plates of Pernil, seasoned pork roast, with rice and pigeon peas. I also found the rice and pigeon peas on the salty side, although not as bad as the mofongo. The pork had good flavor, but I found the meat to be dry and a bit chewy.
The third entree we all had a taste of was the Pollo Guisado, which was a chicken stew. I thought the chicken stew was okay. Nothing really stood out about it, except for the fact that it tasted on the bland side. Either it wasn't seasoned enough or the because of the aggressive seasoning of the mofongo, it was just bland in comparison. Perhaps, it was a bit of both.
By now, it's probably easy to see that this meal is not definitely one of the foodie highlights of my year. It may have been a total washout if it wasn't for the desserts. First, there was the Guava Dumplings. The filling was a little runny. You took a bite and it was spilling everywhere, but at least, it definitely tasted of guava.
Our second dessert was the Tembleque, which translates to "trembling" in Puerto Rican. Apparently, it can be put in molds and when taken out, it can jiggle like Jell-O. It's a dessert that is cooked either with coconut milk or coconut cream with milk, cornstarch, salt, sugar and with other spices. Mofongos' version had some kind of citrus juice added to it and was topped with cinnamon. I enjoyed the fact that the tembleque was light and not overly sweet. It gave the meal a bright, citrusy finish.
Last, but not least, was the Budin, the Puerto Rican version of Bread Pudding. To be honest, I'm not usually a bread pudding fan, but I couldn't get enough of this budin. The bread had the perfect consistency of not being too hard and not being too soft. It was just right and I also like that it was a bit eggy as well. Like the Tembeleque, it wasn't too overly sweet. It was just right.
Overall, this meal was a real roller coaster. We kind of started in the middle, then went downhill and then the desserts really brought about an upswing to the meal. Without them, this would have been a sad story to tell. In the end, while I wouldn't go out of my way to eat again at Mofongos in the near future, if I had to go back, at least, I'd have the budin and tembelque to look forward to.
By the way, if you'd like to read a more positive review, you can click here to read what the LA Times has to say.
5757 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601