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Restaurants & Bars 6

Plátanos, Plátonos, Plátanos

Melanie Wong | May 10, 200403:39 AM

On Cinco de Mayo, the group of girlfriends met in SF’s Mission to check out Platanos, Cocina Latina, offering favorites from the Yucatan and Central America. With five of us, we were able to cut a wide swathe through the menu. In fact we decided to order everything that had plantain in it from which the restaurant derived its name.

We ordered eight appetizers of six different types, listed here as described on the menu.

“Guacamole, $6.75, traditional dip of fresh avocado, red onion, cilantro & lime juice served with plantain mariquitas (chips)”, was our first bite while we studied the menu more closely. Freshly made in a rough hewn style with chunks of fresh dead-ripe avocado, mild and non-spicy. We loved the long lengthwise slices of crackly plantain for scooping it up, although I didn’t feel they went that well together and would have liked a corn chip.

“Pupusas, $6, two Salvadorean masa “cakes” stuffed with cheese & either chicken, shrimp, pork, bean, bell pepper or loroco”, were the priciest pupusas I’ve had. A smaller in diameter than at the homestyle places, we tried one veggie pair with bell pepper and with loroco, and one plate with chicken and shrimp. Though diminutive, they were freshly made and first rate with a slightly chewy yet light cornmeal body with a delicately crisp exterior. Wrapped around a big proportion of filling held, the melted cheese binder oozed on cutting. The bell pepper was very tasty flecked with a dice of roasted sweet red and green peppers and crunchier less cooked bits of pepper. The loroco had more of this indigenous green than other versions I’ve tried, yet I’m still not sure what it tastes like. The chicken was just okay, since I’m not a fan of white meat. The shrimp was my favorite stuffed with succulent, barely cooked sweet shrimp bound with melted cheese. The barely softened curtido hit the right tangy notes complicated with herbal tones. The mild red sauce served on the side was well-made, if not exciting.

“Empanaditas, $6.75” has switched from beef to a chicken filling. The corn masa crust folded over a shredded chicken into a turnover and then fried was speckled with sugar crystals. I knocked off some of the sugar as it was excessive to my taste with the light flavor of the chicken. This was served with a coral-pinkish pastel crema dipping sauce that tasted like sriracha sauce in crema fresca to me. This was my least favorite of the appetizers, but still decent.

“Tostones con Dos Salsas, $6.50, green plantains are fried twice & smashed into flat rounds, served hot with 2 dipping sauces: garlic-cilantro & spicy mayan pumpkin seed.” Shown on the left, served in a fresh banana leaf cone, the tostones were well-executed with a nice firm center with thinner and very crunchy edging. The green cilantro sauce reminded Kathy of the cilantro chutney at North Indian restaurants. It was the better accompaniment for the tostones, although the pumpkin seed salsa was more interesting. The pumpkin seed blend would have been even better with some more chili heat.

“Gallo Pinto con Platanos Maduros, $6.50, Nicaraguan-style sautéed rice & beans with ripe plantains & cilantro crema fresca, shown in the middle, had the ripest plantains. Carmelized to a tee, these were sweet, meltingly soft and yielding. The kidney beans and white rice mounded in the middle and topped with salsa fresca was deliciously savory.

“Panuchos, $6.75, crispy bean-filled tortillas topped with duck confit, tomato salsa, shredded lettuce and radishes”, describes but can’t capture the full flavor and texture of these piled high masa cakes (shown on the right). While I found myself wishing I had some habanero salsa to pep it up, this was my favorite of the appetizers, as much for the spritely fresh taste of the garnishes as the corn cake and duck itself. I suggested to our vegetarian friend that she try the veggies flavored with the salsa. At first she had some trepidation that some duck juices might touch her fork, but after one taste, she was soon poking carefully around the plate to capture the greens untouched by meat. On the way home, I rang up my Mayan cuisine consultant to tell him about this dish. He was taken aback at the incorporation of duck confit, but I assured him that he would admire the Nuevo twist on this antojito when he tried it himself.


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