Friday, April 29, 2011

El Rinconcito & Mofongo!

I do eat out at a restaurant once in a great while. What that does is put quite a bit of pressure on the restaurant owner whether they know it or not. As I rarely eat out..I usually choose the restaurant by my previous experience there or by Rave review from someone close to me. The El Riconcito comes to me through previous experience. It is a local, close by little place that I have experienced multiple times.
©El Ronconcito de Santa Barbara

El Riconcito or "The Little Corner Nook" for us anglos. The restaurant is very literally a corner nook of a place in a very nondescript shopping plaza. As soon as you step in you are transported into a Latin Cafe. Very casual, warming and comfortable. The decor is that of a "Latin Cafeteria" A purposeful combination of Puerto Rican and Cuban Distinctions.
I came to find El Rinconcito because I had been watching a Food Network Show where a restaurant in South Miami had showcased their most distinct menu item "Mofongo". I live in an area of Miami very heavy in Cuban flavor and had not had the pleasure of trying "Mofongo". As I am very "picky" on what restaurants I choose, I researched reviews and found that the restaurant highlighted in the show had become very commercial. Went by the way side the idea of the local true to it's origin menu. The Showcased restaurant had descriptive reviews that stated "cold food", "lack luster" & "over priced". I saw within those reviews a little nudge to a little "Mofongo Treasure" 2 blocks from my home. Could I be that lucky? I was. that same day I visited El Riconcito. The Mofongo was delightful! I had to agree. This made me a believer and have ever since agreed with the reviewer in that I had found a gem here.
Last night I jotted on over to my neighborhood "nook" and expected my favorites to be as they always are. I guess expecting consistency in this day and age may not be a good way to go about things. It is my opinion though that if you frequent certain restaurants you want consistency. I am sorry to say I didnt find it Last night at El Rinconcito. I understand that the economy may be less than what a restauranteur dreams about but I would hope that this would give his consistent good food the opportunity to shine for those who are loyal.
Let me express that my findings are my own, my companion had little to say regarding the Waiter's most generic "sexist" behavior and astonishment that we wanted a booth for 2 people. The waiter never made eye contact with me nor did he answer my (English) questions regarding some changes, I clearly noticed with the food. Any and all conversation was directed to my male companion. I have no doubt had the food shined as it always had I would not be making remarks on the waiter's behavior, but when you do decide to trek out of the comfort of your home to spend hard earned dollars for a meal, you expect the food to be "decent" and the service to be as well.Unfortunately this was not the case at El Rinconcito last night.
I had hopes... here are the things I noted: The menu had changed. An Anglo person would have a hard time ordering in this restaurant. I would not recommend this restaurant to an anglo couple, unless they were well versed in latin food. The texture and flavor of the food has markedly changed, even though the waiter remarked to my companion in perfect Spanish that there had not been a change in management nor a change in chef (head cook). Portions sizes have reduced. This may have come from a change in ingredient quality and from a change in price of ingredients overall. The prices have gone up about 33%. Where a meal that included dessert used to cost $30.00 for 2 people, now cost $40.00. Now, let me state again, I understand the reason for this change and would be accepting of it, had the consistency remained the same. While I agree $40.00 including dessert is dirt cheap for a meal, I have no problem paying that and more if the meal is what I am expecting.
Upon arrival we were given a basket of Garlic bread. My companion dove in with full luster. I on the other hand was wary as the garlic was very very prominent and wowwed me with a small bite. I was conservative here. I also knew that my order was always more than I could handle so I wanted to make sure I didnt fill up on bread. I ordered the "Mofongo and Masitas" or as the menu states: "Mofongo con Masas de Cerdo Frita"
Mofongo is a mash of green plantains that have been poached or fried. In this case deep fried green plantains are mashed in a wooden container with garlic, then pork fat (chicharrones) is added for flavor.
Masas de Cerdo Frita are Marinated Pork chunks that are then deep fried to a crisp and moist perfection.
The Masitas as I call them were wonderfully crisp to bite into and then a fantastic moist inner loveliness. Really good. The Mofongo..bland. We even had ordered more chicharrones because we like the little crisp to break up the mash of the plantain..and it didnt help. You are given a cup of liquid alongside your meal. This liquid used to be a delightful and flavorful "broth" that was a wonderful little moisture addition you could choose to add to the Mofongo. The liquid I was given last night was fatty and very heavy. It left a pastiness on your tongue. I was very disappointed.
We ended the evening with Traditional Flan and Cafe con Leche. Sublime. No problems with either. I did note that the flan had cinnamon and it had not had cinnamon previously. Again when asked, the waiter stated there had been no kitchen nor management changes...


What I have to say is this...If you have a local haunt, a local little "nook" that you frequent. Let them know how important their consistency is to you. Let them know that you come back for the flavors and service you know and love. They might not realize how much it means to you or to their business. I am sorry to say that even though my companion had no problems during the meal..he was up until 4 am with indigestion. I'm not really sure if it was the food or the garlic.. but either way..it had never happened before.

Unfortunately El Rinconcito is not my favorite little "nook" anymore.