Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Weekend Assignment: A Visit to the Little Frog

The things I do for memes! In this case, for Weekend Assignment #312: Write A Culinary Review, I took extreme measures after being stalled all week. You see, back on my birthday (March 10th), my friend Kevin and I went to a Puerto Rican restaurant called El Coqui, which opened recently near my home. Sounds like a perfect topic for a food review, right? Except that I couldn't remember the names of the exotic items I'd ordered. So this afternoon I went there again.

This time, I started off taking notes, but then asked for and obtained a "to go" menu. Much better!

El Coqui is a little frog that is sort of a mascot of Puerto Rico. He turned up in the restaurant on their bread serving bowl, and as a cute, almost pictographic symbol on their menu.

Anyway. Here is what I had on my birthday. This is the "Especial de la Casa," Arroz con gandules, Pernil y Pastel. This translates as "Rice and pigeon peas, roasted pork and pastel." The roasted pork is easy to identify, and rather good it was, too. The other two items on the plate were almost a treasure hunt. The rice had chick peas as well as the "pigeon peas," and I think some kind of bean, and I think more pork. I liked it. The really weird item was the third thing, the pastel I guess. It was sort of the Purerto Rican equivalent of a tamale, but made from a plantain instead of corn, and stuffed with meat and chick peas and I'm not sure what else.

And plantains are kind of the point. Many years ago, my friend Robin took me to a Cuban restaurant in Los Angeles. I distinctly remember eating something that was like Mexican food, except that it was made with a banana. A banana! And I liked it! When I saw there was a Puerto Rican restaurant opening at 22nd and Craycroft, I kind of hoped that Puerto Rican cuisine also incorporated bananas in their cooking. Well, yes and no. They use plantains, which are larger and greener cousins of your standard yellow banana. Plantains, I learned belatedly, are not sweet, and not really meant to be eaten raw. El Coqui makes fritters of them, filled with beef, which is a slightly different thing from the plantain-based thingy on the especial. I shared an order of these fritters, called Alcupurria - relleno con carne, with Kevin. It was okay.

Vanilla flan, El Coqui style

In fact, it was all okay. It was well prepared and nicely presented, and Kevin liked all of it, a lot. But to be honest, I was lukewarm about most of it, except for the flan, which I loved. I also loved the restaurant for its decor and its friendly staff in the Panama hats, and the infectious music on the PA. But the food itself wasn't what I'm used to, and I'm just not very adventurous in my food tastes. Still, I think everybody should try it once. And if you like it, come back!

Oh, and today, when I did come back? I had a Cubano sandwich. This was a baguette stuffed with ham and their signature roasted pork, with Swiss cheese, pickles, mayo and mustard. The ham was medium-thick instead of the ultra-thin, tasteless stuff one usually gets, and added flavor to the pork without overwhelming it. The mustard and pickle really worked with this combination, and so did the "mild ketchup," really a ketchup mixed with mayo, that was served on the side. Good stuff!

You can find El Coqui at 5443 E. 22nd St., Tucson AZ 85711. The restaurant is on the northwest corner of 22nd and Craycroft, in the same shopping center as the Arizona DES (Department of Economic Security) office and the Animal Birth Control vet's office for cut rate pet neutering. Also a strip club. And Charlie's Comics, which I recommend. Long time Tucsonans may recognize the El Coqui location as the former site of Tom's BBQ.

The roundup of last week's Weekend Assignment entries, and the new WA, will be posted late tonight.



Carly said...

Hi Karen

My goodness, that looks really yummy, but you know I could just inhale that flan. My sweet tooth is crying out... YUM! :)

Is this your favorite type of ethnic food? I don't think I have heard you mention Italian or Chinese food before. Would love to know what you frequent the most.


Karen Funk Blocher said...

Carly, this is a cuisine that's totally new to me, and far from my favorite. But I do have a favorite Italian restaurant, Mama Louisa's, that I've written about a few times, but not really in depth:

The Chinese restaurant we go to is Peking Palace; we mostly get takeout Foo Yung. The best Greek restaurant in town is Opa, but that's way across town and too expensive to eat there often. Other than that the main cuisine around here is Mexican. There are quite a few of those, unsurprisingly, with a wide variety of regional approaches.

Hmm. I can see me writing about some more of these....