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Restaurants & Bars 10

Rabo Encendido, my new favorite food!! (long review)

Will Owen | Dec 30, 200505:00 PM

Now I know why our esteemed correspondent adopted the name of this dish as his Nom de Chow: it's not only the best thing you can do with that end of a cow, it's one of the best things you can do with ANY of it! (Okay, I'd never had it before, so maybe Caribbean Bistro's version is only average, in which case I have a new purpose in life...)

Anyway, last night Ms. O and I persuaded her mom, brother, sis-in-law and niece to go with us to this place even though we'd never been there ourselves, but this was a good chance to try it out in discriminating company. It's pretty tiny, but there were just a few other customers at the time, so they quickly threw a couple of tables together for us. The menu is loaded with lots of enticing grub, definitely worth several trips to work through the high points. We all went directly to the main courses; there are several pages of those alone. While we were mulling, we ordered drinks - all non-alky, as they don't have a license - and the waitress brought baskets of fresh-baked bread and some sort of compound butter. At this point I began to have Doubts: my iced tea had either come from a jar of powder or, if brewed, had been sitting in the fridge for a little too long. The bread was rather disappointing as well, with a crust that exploded in shards and an insubstantial, spongy crumb.

Of course I had to try the rabo encendido, especially after reading the description. Tania and her brother ordered the lechon, sis-in-law asked for the filet mignon (still mooing, please), mom got the shrimp and niece the scallops. The soup was a lentil/bean; three of us asked for salad, two for soup, one abstained. My expectations sank a bit further when I saw the salads come fully plated and dressed from the fridge, and yes, they were a bit tired. The dressing was tasty if a tad sharp, but rubber romaine isn't much good no matter what you put on it. The soup-eaters had no such problems, and happily scraped their bowls clean.

And then the real food began to arrive, and things perked up considerably. Each quite large plate carried a big mound of yellow rice with a strip of fried plantain on top and a generous helping of black beans, in addition to the sizable pile of entrée, whatever it was. I got three vertebrae, each about the size of a healthy child's fist, sitting on a pile of a divine-smelling finely-chopped vegetable sauce. The lechon, if anything, looked even better, the scallops and shrimp came in a cream sauce, and I can't say much about the steak because, well, you see one you've seen them all, but its recipient had no complaints...

Nor did I. I had to put on my reading specs to see how to get into all the dips and hollows, but the meat was moist and tender, a little gummy in that delicious way long-cooked, slightly gristly meat has, and almost porky in its richness. I kept carving out morsels and cutting them into the rice, adding some of that sauce, then a bite of the rich, flavorful black beans, and wound up asking for a few extra napkins so I could pick up the remnants and go after them in person, so to speak. I did not try the seafood, nor did I dare to disturb the French Carnivore in her attack on the filet, but I did share bites with my sweetie and decided it's gonna be lechon next time - it was ALMOST better than mine.

As we sank slowly into the sunset, our host reappeared and asked What about dessert? We scoffed at the notion, then asked (just out of politeness) what he had? A coconut custard, he said (H'm...). With fresh coconut and whipped cream (H'MMM?) And drizzles of chocolate! Oh, well, how about one order and six forks? Mom said she'd do without, but they gave her a fork anyway, and I took an experimental bite. It was like a sort of cream cheese torta in consistency, creamy but rather stiff, and not too sweet, and very coconutty. The whipped cream was very much not stiff, a good foil to the custard, and the chocolate was almost more of a presence than a flavor. It all worked ridiculously well, and we all (including Mom) worked away at it - could NOT imagine trying to eat this by myself! - and then restrained ourselves from licking the plate, just barely.

The tab for the six of us was right at $100, before tax and tip; the entrées run from $8 or so to the early 'teens - lechon is about $11, rabo encendido just under $13. We are definitely going back; I wish they'd improve a few details, but the main attractions are nicely done and in generous portions, and the people are attentive and friendly.

The link below is to a short review Elmer Dills wrote about this place - I pretty much concur with its conclusions.


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