Puerto Rican in East

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    Mildred Perez heard the lament often: There just weren't enough Puerto Rican restaurants in Orlando. Finally the island's descendant decided to take her friends' advice and do something about it. Not long ago Perez debuted Brisas del Caribe on Curry Ford Road, where she has enjoyed a steady flow of traffic ever since.

    Her homespun menu shares similarities with Cuban fare in the roast pork, chicken and fried-plantain staples. The difference between the two becomes clear in the flavorings, such as the extra garlic and cilantro that are rubbed into meats.

    Her homespun menu shares similarities with Cuban fare in the roast pork, chicken and fried-plantain staples. The difference between the two becomes clear in the flavorings, such as the extra garlic and cilantro that are rubbed into meats.

    And as for soups, rather than a traditional black bean, Perez favors richer stews fortified with plump, silky red-kidney beans.

    And as for soups, rather than a traditional black bean, Perez favors richer stews fortified with plump, silky red-kidney beans.

    "Puerto Rican is more European in its influence. We don't use so many hot spices, but we do use a lot of seasonings: garlic, olive oil, oregano and vinegar," explains Perez. "The island is so small that we also use a lot of seafood – it's one of our specialties."

    "Puerto Rican is more European in its influence. We don't use so many hot spices, but we do use a lot of seasonings: garlic, olive oil, oregano and vinegar," explains Perez. "The island is so small that we also use a lot of seafood – it's one of our specialties."

    Because Puerto Rican dinners are usually served in heaping portions, it's not necessary to start with appetizers at Brisas del Caribe. Many of them are included with entrees anyway. But we liked "yucca al mojo," a boiled, starchy vegetable that's fibrous like squash. All of the yucca's sweetness was brought out by a sticky garlic glaze, and it gained an entirely new character when dipped in a snappy red "mojo" sauce. It was a steal at $1.75.

    Because Puerto Rican dinners are usually served in heaping portions, it's not necessary to start with appetizers at Brisas del Caribe. Many of them are included with entrees anyway. But we liked "yucca al mojo," a boiled, starchy vegetable that's fibrous like squash. All of the yucca's sweetness was brought out by a sticky garlic glaze, and it gained an entirely new character when dipped in a snappy red "mojo" sauce. It was a steal at $1.75.

    Among entrees, my guest loved the bold freshness of pechuga al ajillo ($9.99), a boneless chicken breast that was sizzled on a grill, then smothered in a deeply flavored garlic sauce. The dish was served with red beans and rice, and fried green plantains that were golden on the edges, yet still moist and flavorful within.

    Among entrees, my guest loved the bold freshness of pechuga al ajillo ($9.99), a boneless chicken breast that was sizzled on a grill, then smothered in a deeply flavored garlic sauce. The dish was served with red beans and rice, and fried green plantains that were golden on the edges, yet still moist and flavorful within.

    Another fine choice was tripleta de mariscos ($15.99), a trio of conch, octopus and shrimp sautéed with a clean-tasting, vinegary sauce. The seafood creation had a delicate lightness that nicely contrasted against the heaviness of the fried plantains that were served on the side.

    Another fine choice was tripleta de mariscos ($15.99), a trio of conch, octopus and shrimp sautéed with a clean-tasting, vinegary sauce. The seafood creation had a delicate lightness that nicely contrasted against the heaviness of the fried plantains that were served on the side.

    As for dessert, we loved the luscious tres leches (three milk) cake ($1.75), a plain, blondish concoction served in a cup and masked by meringue. We prodded into it with a spoon, and three kinds of sweet milk spread luxuriantly over the cake, soaking into every crevice.

    As for dessert, we loved the luscious tres leches (three milk) cake ($1.75), a plain, blondish concoction served in a cup and masked by meringue. We prodded into it with a spoon, and three kinds of sweet milk spread luxuriantly over the cake, soaking into every crevice.

    Though Brisas del Caribe is too rambling and brightly lit to afford a sense of intimacy, after hours Thursday through Sunday the restaurant morphs nicely into a salsa/merengue club.

    Though Brisas del Caribe is too rambling and brightly lit to afford a sense of intimacy, after hours Thursday through Sunday the restaurant morphs nicely into a salsa/merengue club.

    Waiters take great pains to welcome newcomers, and the Perez's food is as warm and inviting as a home-cooked meal. Although dishes such as roast chicken and pork are not likely to win awards for innovation, count on leaving happy and stuffed.

    The sleepy barrio of Guavate, in the heart of Puerto Rico's Sierra de Cayey mountain range, has become a haven for palates with a penchant for pork, particularly of the roasted variety. The rotisseried piggies are as much of an attraction as the town's pastoral expanses, so it was a surprising to see just a handful of pork dishes on the expansive menu of this restaurant named after the mountain hamlet. There were no pigs impaled over open-air spits here, but we were excitedly informed that mondongo ($5.99) was available.

    Not to be confused with Puerto Rico's national dish, mofongo, mondongo is, as our charming and informative waitress put it, 'drunk food.â?� The main ingredient of the hearty Latin American soup is typically beef tripe, but Boricuas use pig stomach to create the pungent, wonderfully seasoned meal in a bowl. The soup isn't for all tastes, but if you downed a few too many Medalla beers the night before, it will certainly help you regain your sobriety. Each comforting slurp is made all the more so with chunks of taro and potatoes.

    If you sour at the sight of tripe, other soupy starters can be had. Less adventurous diners will find the broth of the asopao de pollo ($7.99) just as comforting. My dining partner remarked the chicken soup was reminiscent of her Puerto Rican sister-in-law's asopao, thanks to the inclusion of pigeon peas, olives, red peppers, taro and plenty of rice. For fried beginnings, the assorted meat appetizer platter ($9.99) offers a nice representation of the island's delicacies. Achiote-tinged potato balls stuffed with ground beef and mini meat turnovers begged for a splash of house-made hot sauce. Chicharrones (chicken cracklings) were nuggets of moistness, while alcapurrias, mahogany-hued cylinders of mashed plantains, starchy yautía and ground beef, failed to arouse our appetites.

    Boricua kitchens are judged by the quality of their mofongo, and if you're a fan of the mashed-plantain-and-meat staple, you'll have a field day with the more than 20 varieties Guavate deftly churns out. The churrasco mofongo ($16.99) blended wonderfully tender chunks of chimichurri-basted skirt steak into an impressive heap of green plantains flavored with garlic and crispy pork skin. The mofongo didn't suffer from the desiccated texture often associated with the dish, but if you opt to enjoy it with a side of yautía (included), carb bloating is virtually assured. Chillo frito (red snapper, $15.99) was as flaky as it should've been, but it was the accompanying sauces ' a garlicky salsa ajillo and a zesty creole sauce thick with green peppers, onions and capers ' that really livened up the fish.

    Such uncompromisingly traditional fare calls for traditional liquid refreshments, and fresh-squeezed juices like passion fruit ($2.99) and lemon ($2.99) are standout quaffs. Desserts, on the other hand, weren't as impressive ' a cinnamon blanket on jiggly tembleque ($3.50) negated any semblance of coconut essence, and creamy flan de queso ($2.99) could've used more caramel syrup.

    Still, Guavate's dishes are a notch above other Puerto Rican restaurants in town, and the restaurant has left an indelible mark on regulars. A lease disagreement led to a relocation from East Colonial Drive to South Alafaya Trail, but the drive hasn't deterred patrons. Now if they'd just get that open-air spit â?¦.

    Charlie Crist and Jim Davis may not have much in common, but in the midst of last year’s gubernatorial race, they did manage to find a little common ground at this Puerto Rican diner in east Orlando. Sure, their campaign stops here had more to do with vote-mongering than it did with cravings for mofongo and tostones, but even politicians courting an endorsement from the Hispanic community need to eat, and when it comes to dishes from that island commonwealth, Mi Viejo San Juan gets my vote, though it’s not a resounding one.

    Finding the place is a bit of a tricky proposition – it’s tucked away off Colonial Drive’s busy thoroughfare, between Forsyth and Goldenrod – and once you’re inside, communicating with the predominantly Spanish-speaking wait staff can be just as tricky. The spacious dining room is awash in a blinding fluorescence, and the tropical orange-colored walls do little to reflect any semblance of that “Old San Juan” charm.

    The grouper criolla ($11.99), on the other hand, does. Two sautéed fillets of lean, firm flesh are lathered in a rich pimiento-sweetened tomato sauce, textured with onions and peppers and sided with amarillos (fried sweet plantains) and fried yuca. The latter merits a dip in the table hot sauce, a fiery concoction with a piquancy that makes it a worthy dressing on anything from the delicately fried minced chicken–and-cornmeal poppers ($4.99) to the unremarkable salad, highlighted by withered iceberg lettuce, a few onion slivers and two dried-out tomato slices.

    The blistering that beset the black bean soup ($3.99) was a disappointing sight (likely a result of cooking the beans too quickly) and made for quite the papery swallow. The same rupturing plagued the side of red beans, which lolled in a thick, smoky sauce along with chunks of potato. Upon seeing the rich mahogany broth of the chicken soup ($6.99), I couldn’t wait to dig in, but my palate was met with a mushy gumbo thanks to overdone noodles. For what it’s worth, the bone-in hunks of chicken were nicely seasoned.

    The cut of churasco ($14.99) was superbly tender and soft on the tongue, but entirely devoid of moisture or flavor. A splash of chimichurri didn’t help, and I couldn’t help but think that this cut would be better served as a sandwich. The accompanying french fries were acceptable, but the yuca con mojo was much better. The cassava is blanched, thick-cut, then topped with mojo – an unctuous sauce of olive oil, garlic, onions and red peppers. The side is practically a meal in itself, but given that all entrees come with two sides, you had better gird yourself for some serious carb shock.

    Unlike batter-dipped Southern fried chicken, the pollo frito ($8.99) is rubbed in adobo spices then fried to a beautiful crisp, the highlight being the lubricious glaze on the half-bird’s skin. Pairing it with savory twice-fried tostones (mashed green plantains) completed the meal, though not before some additional dips in the hot sauce.

    Requisite flan queso ($2.50) was properly dense and eggy with just the right hint of bitterness to its caramel, while guava soffle ($2.50), an airy mousse-like dessert, tasted more like berries than it did guava. Assorted tropical beverages are also offered, though neither the sangria ($2.95), pina colada smoothie ($2.50) nor passionfruit juice ($2.50) impressed.

    Like so many mom-and-pop restaurants, the experience here can be hit or miss, but the hits tend to outweigh the misses. I’m sure if you ask the hordes of regulars, they’ll tell you there’s no such thing as bad PR.

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