The Puerto Rican Dining Experience
Carlos Beltran of the New York Yankees Points to Sofrito Restaurant as the Ultimate Destination for Authentic Puerto Rican Cuisine
By JR Rosenthal
New York Yankee Right Fielder Carlos Beltran, 37, knows a thing or two about enjoying delicious food and analyzing flavor combinations. Having been bred in Manati, Puerto Rico, on the lively, complex and pungent nuances of sofrito — the blend of mild herbs and spices that lie beneath the surface of all Puerto Rican cooking, Beltran made his return to New York to find the best Puerto Rican restaurant in any city in the USA.
Beltran, celebrating his 37th birthday on a rare off day during a recent Yankee home stand, was honored in an event sponsored by Hennessy VS at Sofrito (400 E. 57th Street), a trendy, vibrant, colorful hot spot in midtown. “I always enjoyed something delicious to eat before I would head to the ballpark throughout my career,” said Beltran, whose wife is an excellent cook. “Food is a very big part of my life, with its effect of making me happy and also elevating any experience to a higher level. Puerto Rican cooking celebrates the bright, sunny, warm nature of the Puerto Rican culture, and that’s what Sofrito is all about.”
Sofrito Restaurant, under the culinary guidance of executive Chef Ricardo Cardona, offers a rare opportunity to savor authentic dishes in a colorful, warm dining room with an electric bar scene and casual dining—but dress nicely if you want to feel at home in this tony East Side fashion scene. Beltran and his friends were served a gigantic tray (behind a curtained-off area) of appetizers that ran the gamut from seafood to beef to fried cheese. Fortunately, the guests at this VIP-only soiree also had a chance to sample the full monty of appetizer options from the menu.
From the dizzying array of choices served on silver trays by the well-trained staff, my favorites included Mini Piononos, sweet plantains stuffed with beef picadillo; Bunuelos de Bacalao, cod fish puffs with house made tartar sauce; Chicharron de Camaron, crispy popcorn shrimp; Quesadilla de Ropa Vieja, shredded beef and farmer’s cheese melted on a house made flour tortilla; and a delicious selection of Totstones-Montaditos (fried green plantains) topped with either marinated skirt steak, shrimp, octopus or cod fish.
I came back for dinner the day after the Carlos Beltran party and enjoyed a wider sampling of dishes. Once again, the food was exquisite—a blend of subtle flavors with the most delicious fresh ingredients. The defining element of Puerto Rican cooking is the play of mild spice with the backbone of the sofrito, which includes (but is not limited to) onions, garlic, red and green sweet peppers, cilantro and tomatoes. The dishes are cooked with precise technique and with a respect for the authentic, fresh ingredients.
My favorites (based on an extensive sampling) off the dinner menu include the tender and aromatic Churrasco al Chimichurri, a medium-rare skirt steak topped with Chimichurri sauce; Pechuga de Pollo, a grilled chicken breast served with a fresh mango sauce; Pernil con Arroz y Gandules, a slow-cooked roast pork with pigeon peas and rice (a standard Puerto Rican starch) and sweet plantains; Salmon al Sarten, pan-roasted salmon in caper sauce; and Rabo de Res Guisado con Arroz, Habichuelas y Maduros, a magnificent oxtail stew with rice, beans and sweet plantains.
The service is excellent and the ambience—again, sort of a hip and well-dressed NYC vibe and dimly-lit dining room—is fun and entertaining. Reservations are essential. Plan at least a few days ahead, as this one of those up-and coming places in trend-setting New York.
IF YOU GO
400 E. 57th Street (near 1st Ave.)
New York, New York