Sunday, March 13, 2011

Aural pain or oral pleasure?

Posted By on Sun, Mar 13, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Hector Santiago
  • Hector Santiago
A few weeks back, I wrote about herding some friends to more adventurous restaurants after joining them at the totally grim Longhorn.

This week we went to Pura Vida, one of my favorite restaurants in the city. None of my five friends had ever dined there — something of a shock to me, since Hector Santiago, the owner/chef, was a Top Chef contestant and is widely recognized as one of the most inventive chefs in town.

Most of the six of us enjoyed the food (so I think it's time for them to dine on offal and chicken feet next time). Our only mutual complaint about Pura Vida: The noise level is so intense that conversation can be difficult. But what's aural stimulation compared to oral stimulation?

My favorite dish of the evening was a special of house-cured fat from the back of the neck of a hairy pig. (No, I didn't have to pick the hair out of the fat.) The smooth fat was contrasted with some crunchy bits and was garnished with micro-greens.

My least favorite was one featuring chayote squash, calabaza puree and slices of smoked tofu. Honestly, I'd prefer the tofu unsmoked, but vegans — ever on the outlook for new tofu flavors — should be very happy.

Among other dishes at the table were: charred mushrooms in chipotle-garlic butter; crab Tater Tots; grilled shrimp; skirt steak with a particularly intense chimichurri sauce; and a flan-like, kinda chocolate creme brulee thing.

I also ordered my usual here — the mofongo. It includes mashed green plantains with pieces of carnitas. The mash was a little dry, compared to other versions I've had here, but nonetheless delicious.

One caution: The restaurant serves nothing but tapas, but they border portion-wise on being more like medios platos for two. Order more than two per person, and you'll likely feel overfed.

Incidentally, after being evicted from the parking lot across the street, Santiago has moved his weekend burrito stand into Super Pan, the sandwich shop below Pura Vida. He and his wife Leslie plan to spend a week in Puerto Rico soon.

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