I have a confession to make.
I live in Puerto Rico and I visited José Enrique’s flagship restaurant at la Placita de Santurce for the first time a month ago. The restaurant has been operating non stop since 2007. The lines have not thinned out since then. It took friends visiting from Boston and the ‘it’s Tuesday, how bad can the wait be’ reasoning to get me to Calle Duffaut.
The food is that good. And totally worth waiting an hour and a half for a table on a Tuesday at 6:30pm. If I’ve stood/sat line for fried chicken in Savannah and Shack-burgers in Madison Square Park… believe me that the smoked carne frita bites, minutas, fried corvina chunks and carne guisada from a local James Beard Foundation award finalist are worthier of the ‘sacrifice’.
A few days before going to the restaurant, I had received the September issue of Food & Wine magazine. Who was featured in the issue? Yep, José Enrique. An alum of the 2013 Best New Chef class of the magazine, the main article in the magazine featured the restaurant in Santurce and the plans for El Blok, his boutique hotel in Vieques. The feature also included his twist on many Puerto Rican recipes. It was amazing to see a recipe for arroz con pollo – made with light beer, like mine – grace the pages of Food & Wine.
Other recipes from the article include:
- Grilled cilantro-lime shrimp with yuca
- Avocado-green pea salsa
- Pineapple mojitos
- Glazed mackerel with fried eggplant and mojo
- House hot sauce
- Skirt steak with roasted tomato chimichurri and potatoes
- Tuna steaks with mustard dressing and mashed taro
- Garlicky roast pork shoulder
- Lamb, eggplant and feta-stuffed plantains
This is probably the best representation of modern Puerto Rican cooking online and in print available at this time. I plan to continue cooking my way through this feature in the next few weeks.
That last recipe in the list, the lamb and eggplant and feta stuffed plantains, was the one that piqued my curiosity the most. I love sweet and salty entrees and there are not many Puerto Rican recipes that feature lamb.
The inspiration behind the recipe is the plantain canoa. For ‘canoes’, ripe plantains are baked or fried until cooked through. A slit is cut lengthwise and the plantain is overstuffed with savory picadillo, a ground beef hash with cooked with tons of sofrito. Local cheese is grated on top for additional salty contrast. I had to make some swaps to accommodate the lack of overripe yellow plantains (and E’s feelings about them). Sweet potatoes also provide a good contrast to the savory lamb and eggplant picadillo. I really liked that the stuffed sweet potatoes were more filling than the plantain version – perfect for lunch on those extra-long days.
And on a cool note… check out the fourth name in the Instagram likes for the dish. There were happy dances and high fives later that night.