To be honest, there wasn't much convincing to be done. In fact, my idea of "winging it" in a town filled to the brim with Latin, Middle Eastern, Turkish, Indian, Mexican, and every other type of ethnic cuisine known to mankind, was greeted with an ear-to-ear smile.
The strategy was simple - no map, no clues, no destination, no plan. We would simply follow our stomachs and see where we ended up. We were set to roll the "culinary" dice, so to speak, and with two adventurers who have reveled in everything from pig intestines to calves brains standing at the table, the odds were definitely not in the house's favor on this day.
We found ourselves driving along a crowded avenue filled with a multitude of diverse eateries. One which caught our eye was an establishment that offered Caribbean fare, a style of cuisine I am hugely fond of, and we almost pulled over. Another was an interesting Turkish restaurant that we actually doubled back towards, but twice, passed it up for a still undisclosed third option. Something tugged at us and moved us onward.
It was quite noticeable that we entered an Hispanic neighborhood, for we began passing a continuous stream of Latin American restaurants ranging from the very upscale to tiny hole-in-the-walls with a mere counter's worth of seating. The allure of this cuisine was too strong to resist. We soon agreed that Chicharrone (fried pork skins) were definitely on our minds. and one of these authentic Hispanic "restaurantes" would obviously be our destination.
The big question was now, "which one?" In truth, it didn't matter. To say we're "adventurous eaters" is the equivalent to calling Superman "strong". It is merely an exercise in stating the obvious. So we were confident in knowing there wouldn't be much on any menu that we would finding alarming - in fact, any challenge would be welcomed. Also, I may not speak enough Spanish to hold a fluent conversation, but I know an ample amount to get my point across when holding a menu. Besides, in the past, "surprise me" has worked well for me when all else fails.
En route, we passed a little restaurant next door with several people eating within. I peered in the window and saw plates of delicious looking food resting before what appeared to be locals. The waitress looked up at me peering through the window and smiled. I returned the gesture and we continued on our way.
The small eatery was called, El Senorio and its sign professed to specialize in creole cuisine, seafood, grilled chicken and barbecue. I figured that covered all bases and we entered.
The waitress came over immediately to help us and what she lacked in English, she more than made up for with smiles and customer service. The menu was varied and I could tell there was, indeed, an array of Latin American style cuisine running the gamut from Peruvian fare to Creole. It was quickly related to our waitress that chicharrone was first and foremost at the top of our list, and we continued to peruse the menu.
We decided to order Patita con Mani and asked if this was something that could be split. I guess the question was lost in translation because the waitress responded that it was "enough to feed one person". So another order was placed for something called, Seco de Cabrito con Arroz y Yucas. At this point (more to come on this shortly), we had a vague idea in regards to what we were ordering, and truthfully, were far more concerned with ordering adequate portions to suit our current level of hunger as opposed to the exact nature of what we were ordering.
We grabbed two canned sodas from the refrigerator and took a seat. Looking around the restaurant, it was easy to discern the establishment's former existence as a Chinese restaurant by the Oriental mural that still decorated one long wall of the interior. Its very existence made for a surreal counterpart to the aromas of hispanic cuisine emanating from the kitchen. Still, decor aside, the scrumptious looking meals on the surrounding tables eradicated any second thoughts in regards to our choice to lunch.
After about ten minutes, our Chicharrones ($9.00) arrived. I've had this item many times both here and abroad, and most times, they arrive as ultra-crispy, and oft-times, burnt, pork rinds. Here, they were more akin to crispy portions of pork belly. They were by no means lean, but they were delightful. Each portion was thick, and while the exterior was crunchy and crisp, the inside meat (or fat, if you will) was sweet and tender. The portion was generous and sat atop a bed of flattened and fried sweet potatoes.
Next came the Patita con Mani ($10.00). I want to begin by stating that the portion was enormous - easily enough for two. I quickly understood what was lost in translation, for when the waitress answered my question, her response did not mean it was "just enough to feed one person", but rather, it was "more than enough to feed one person".
At El Senorio, the Patita con Mani is succulent and delicious, and served in a large portion beside rice. The peanut flavor is minuscule and the dish's composition is rich in sticky, lip-smacking collagen. I loved this dish immensely, although I can see the overall texture being somewhat cumbersome to a "meat and potatoes" type of eater, particularly as it gets colds. It is definitely a menu item best eaten hot.
The goat was moist and juicy, and obviously slow-cooked in a rich sauce with parsley and onions. It was garnished with raw red onion and cilantro, which when coupled with a twist of lime, made for a refreshing counterpart to the richness of the dish. The plate was completed with another huge helping of white rice and deliciously cooked cassava, which is the third largest source of carbohydrates in the tropics behind rice and corn, and is utilized much the same manner as our familiar potato.
Although many may find it off-putting, I am partial to its unique; for lack of a better term - "gaminess" - in much the same manner as one may be partial to lamb; this offering at El Senorio was perhaps the least gamey variety I've ever eaten. In fact,
In my mind, El Senorio was a good find. It's a no-frills, nothing-fancy type of establishment and that's okay with me as long as the numbers add up. And they did. The service is friendly, the options are many, the portions are large and the food is authentically delicious. For around 30 bucks, we consumed a lunch many would refer to as "dinner". In a neighborhood with an obvious amount of competition from restaurants of a similar ilk, I would not hesitate to enjoy another lunch at El Senorio.