Monday, January 28, 2013

Oficina Latina - A Delicious Stop off the Pan American Highway

Last week, I was invited to a fabulous tasting at Oficina Latina, one of my favorite Nolita haunts.  This place is quite special, as I remember enjoying it on multiple occasions during the summertime - really loving their drinks and the anything but run-of-the-mill Pan Latin cuisine.  I was joined by other foodie colleagues such as Daniel from The Daily Meal and Here's Park Slope, Elena from The Gotham Palate, Josh Beckerman the Foodie Magician, among others.  Together, we embarked on a delicious Pan Latin food adventure that set our tastebuds aflutter.

Besides the carefully prepared Latin delicacies you can expect here, the decor is also well thought out and resembles anything but a typical Latin eatery.  Inspired by the Pan American highway, the furnishings are really rustic and put together in a purposefully haphazard way.  You'll find everything from an old barber's chair at the bar to refurbished light fixtures and personal artifacts in all nooks and crannies.  I love that the seating is so varied -
from high backed stools to comfy wide lounge chairs in the back of the dining area.  There's a mantle towards the back with fun photos of adventurous trips taken along this very famous Pan American route.

The focal point though I'd say is the elaborate white tiled bar, where all the magic happens so to speak.  Expertly crafted cocktails get made here, decked by a faint glow of fairy lights that just set the scene for all the yummy things about to happen.

Food and Drink:
We were in for a treat with a 6 course tasting menu of different dishes, which weren't meant for sharing - however in a typical setting, most of these would be served as tapas.  I had a few stand-outs such as the blood sausage and the calamari ceviche, but in all honesty, everything was really tasty.

Calamari Ceviche
- A seriously refreshing dish, I loved its boldness and zest, with the calamari dressed in a lime concoction.  The fresh celery and cilantro added more pop to each bite, and the little delicate chunks of pineapple brought in a surprising element of sweetness.  The whole thing was enveloped in a crunchy tortilla, which was a fun, playful way to eat this dish.

Grilled Octopus - I totally adore octopus, but have also had it cooked totally wrong, which is always a letdown.  Happy to say that Oficina Latina did it justice and then some, the inside of the octopus just melted on your tongue, while the outside had a lovely charred, smokey flavor that made for a nice introduction to your tastebuds.  The whole thing was served on a bed of potato and celery salad, which was non-traditional and made it a bit more hearty.

Grilled Tuna Skewers - Excited by how liberally seafood was used in this tasting, the tuna skewers also delivered.  I loved that the tuna meat was plentiful and cooked to a nice medium.  Further dressed with red bell peppers, onions and pears, I once again raised my brows in approval as the sweetness hit my tongue in a subtle way.  If you look at the photo above, you'll notice the beautiful pink, pickled onions on top that in the words of Daniel "always make things better."

Fried Blood Sausage - While some can get squeamish around this very meaty medley, I absolutely loved it and would call it my culinary highlight of the evening.  The sausage was fried and therefore the skin crispy, while the inside was soft and meaty and oh so rich.  Pairing beautifully with the bite sized arepitas also on the plate, it reminded me of an extreme version of sausage and hash.  And let me not forget the side of chorizo also on the plate, that added more smoke and a little punch of spice.

Braised Lamb Shank - This was the point in the meal when I began to slow down, but I couldn't possibly resist lamb - it's one of my favorite proteins.  Braised lamb nonetheless.  Although I appreciated the nice texture of the meat and its mild flavoring, the dish didn't do as much for me as some of the tapas I just described.  What I did like about it though was the inventive use of sweet plantain puree instead of typical mashed potatoes - nice touch!

Tres Leches Cake - Ending things off on a sweet note was so much fun, as we each got a serving of incredibly moist tres leches cake, which was also prepared in-house. Looking really elegant and a lot more delicate than your typical thick tres leches, this was definitely a lighter and not as sweet version, which was appreciated.  The healthy dollop of fresh whipped cream didn't go unnoticed, as well as the beautiful chocolate sauce design work that dressed the plate.

Drinks - The drinks program at Oficina Latina is just as exciting as its food.  We enjoyed a unique cocktail or wine with each course and my favorites included the candied ginger orange margarita and the shots of rum we did at the end.  The latter was most exciting, as the presentation was impeccably put together in tiny mason jars that were served on a mirror laced with lines of fresh espresso, cinnamon, brown sugar and an orange slice.  Knock one back at your own risk.

Service and Cost:

I loved the casual nature of this place that just feels like somewhere you can hang out on a daily basis with good friends.  Our servers were knowledgeable and attentive but totally nonchalant, which was great.  Chef Abraham came out too and downplayed his incredible skills he showcased throughout the evening, which was totally characteristic of how this place operates.  It's understated yet anything but ordinary.

Costs are moderate and include:
Tapas: $8 - $15
Salads and Tortas (sandwiches): $10 - $16
Main Dishes: $20 - $23
Brunch: $12 or $15 (with a cocktail)

They also offer brunch each and every day til 4 p.m. How great is that?! It's next on my list...

3 Mmmms

Oficina Latina - 24 Prince Street, New York NY 10012
N/R train to Prince Street 

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