I was recently invited to a press dinner to review Oficina Latina, a restaurant located in Nolita.
Before you read this, please understand that the restaurant knew who we were.
I have to say that this restaurant surprised me in many ways that you will discover in this post. I did not check anything before going, facts or reviews, because I did not want to be biased...So here I am on Prince street, on my way to that place. Fortunately, I had the number because I passed right in front of it!!! Not that the entrance was very discreet, but more that it did not look like a restaurant, but more a bar from outside. In fact, the bar is in the front and the dining room further away. Once you are there, there is an authenticity and rusticity that you cannot miss and, you would be transported randomly to places, you would think that you are in South America! It seems that this feeling is partly due to the way the restaurant was furnished, with items either imported or specifically customized for it.
It had a certain warmth to it, thanks to the bricks and diverse artifacts that gave a traditional feel to the place. Fortunately, they did not exaggerate the use of white tiles, that can sometimes, if too white and too present, give the impression you are eating in a bathroom...
I also liked their own version of a communal table that was original and had a nice presence in the room.
As I mentioned first, I thought it was a bar before thinking restaurant. They do show some creativity in the cocktails they are serving. For instance, I tried a delicious blackberry caipirinha !
Not only it tasted good, but it looked good too! Funny thing is that the napkin they gave with the cocktail had printed on it: Me darias tu numero de celular (Would you give me your phone number)! Practical...
So let's talk about food now! Chef Abraham Trinidad prepared a menu featuring a selection of classic dishes inspired by the Pan-American highway in Latin America. So it was the promise for culinary travel and I was ready for it!
They served us three appetizers, one entree and a dessert, paired with some wines from South America (they have a large selection).
Coming from Peru, this dish is made of a lime poached calamari and thinly sliced scallops mixed with celery, cilantro and pineapple (they sometimes decide to switch the pineapple with mango according to the Chef). It was a very good and refreshing dish where I appreciated that the calamari was not rubbery! The pineapple was a nice addition that gave some sweetness to the dish. Wonderful!
Then, we got the Pulpo a la parilla:
This dish is from Ecuador; it is a grilled octopus with cilantro (again?) dressing served on a potato and celery salad. The octopus was definitely the star of the dish: very tender, it had this grilled taste that was enhanced by the sauce. When we spoke with the Chef, he mentioned that the octopus was slow cooked the same day to ensure such a tenderness. Chapeau!
They would have served it without the potato and celery salad, it would have been fine for me (with of course more octopus!!!).
The next appetizer was Spicy Pork y Pollo y Aguacate Arepas:
This time, it was Venezuela that was featured, with the arepas, these little pockets made with corn flour and filled with various ingredients. There, there were two kinds: one with spicy pork (on the right) and one with a chicken and avocado salad (on the left). I loved the presentation that made it looked like street food, as well as the fact that the color of the arepa matched the filling. My favorite was definitely the spicy pork one that had a bit of kick and was very flavorful. The chicken one was so so: I could definitely taste the avocado, but barely the chicken, maybe because there was too much mayonnaise.
Then, for the entree, we got a Jarrete de Cordero (Mexico):
It was a lamb shank braised and slowly cooked with vegetables (and a tiny bit of red wine), served with a sweet plantain puree. This was my favorite dish! I love lamb, but more cutlets, but have to say that this was fantastic! The meat was melting in my mouth and was very tasty. I loved the contrast between savory from the lamb and the sweet from the puree! A great dish to try!
Last, came dessert. We got an Aguacate Flan.
This is an avocado flan, creation of the chef! Yes, you read right: an avocado flan. The flan was delicious and I was very surprised because most Chefs do not know how to make desserts and usually serve standard desserts! So, to go to the extra mile of creativity was astonishing.
The flan, dense and creamy, was served with a blueberry sauce that was perfect because the flan itself was not too sweet and the blueberry sauce added the necessary sweetness to make it a dessert. The taste was very delicate, with a subtle avocado taste. In fact, the Chef uses three avocados to make sixteen flans. I would have had a choice of dessert, I have to admit that I am not sure I would have picked it; in fact I would have probably tried the tres leches that I heard is delish! But I did not regret it and recommend it!
I had a fantastic dinner at Oficina Latina that was a true culinary adventure along the Pan American highway! I will definitely have to go back for brunch or dinner there!
Enjoy (I did)!
And Remember: I Just Want To Eat!