Sunday, May 30, 2010

Eating the Island, Part 1: Metropol

On my first day in Puerto Rico, my boyfriend and I were tired.  His mom really wanted to see us so we made the almost one hour drive from San Juan to Fajardo on the condition of free food.  She told us we'd be dining at Metropol, a primarily Cuban restaurant that also served some Puerto Rican cuisine.  Hmm, Cuban in Puerto Rico. This could be interesting, but I tried to get in the mindframe of "eat Cuban things as this is a Cuban restaurant."

I first ordered a mojito, a Cuban classic composed of rum, simple syrup, soda water, and muddled lime and mint leaves.  This mojito was strong, in a good way, but could have stood for a bit more lime. To the credit of the barkeep, it wasn't too sweet or two fizzy (due to excess simple syrup or soda water).  So not the best mojito I've had, but also not the worst so I was pleased overall.

For appetizers, we got a platter of fried deliciousness to entertain everyone at the table.  We ordered empanadas, alcapurrias, and croquettas but only the last two arrived.  Oh well.  These alcapurrias were filled with ground beef and were just okay in my opinion.  The filling was a bit too salty for me but they had a good crunch which (in my non-Puerto Rican opinion) is the basis of a delish alcapurria.  One gripe that I had was that there was more filling than starchy cocoon.  I enjoy the outside of the alcapurria because they are normally bursting with flavor!  Its generally a seasoned party of mashed green bananas, yuca, pumpkin, or whatever root the chef finds appealing so here alone is a great flavor potential that Metropol missed.

The croquettas on the other hand were lackluster.  Now, I'm going to be critical since the croquetta is a Cuban culinary keystone, and Metropol claims to be a Cuban restaurant.  The croquetta filling had a nice smoky flavor from the ham, and was perfectly balanced between batter, meat, and onions.  The fatal flaw however was that the center was still raw and mushy, making for a bad croquetta.  I have had better croquettas at posh, Latin themed DC restaurants so I consider Metropol's take on this classic an epic fail.

Once again, I tried to stick to the "eat Cuban food, at the Cuban restaurant, in Puerto Rico" mentality and ordered ropa vieja, another classic composed of shredded flank steak that is cooked in a tomato and onion sauce.  My mouth started watering thinking about how nicely the rich, saucy, tomato-y meat would taste with some crispy but gooey amarillos (yellow, sweet plaintains) and rice on the side.  This would remain a dream, because shortly after ordering the waitress returned to tell me there was no ropa vieja that day, and that it is only prepared on weekends and special occassions.  It was a cruel joke.  A.) We were there on Saturday....that is a day that composes the weekend.  B.) This is a Cuban restaurant, how is their no ropa vieja? Grumble.

Luckily, I had a back up dish in mind.  I ordered Mofongo de Yuca con Camarones (Yuca Mofongo Stuffed with Shrimp).  Okay, before continuing let me explain mofongo.  Mofongo is traditionally a green plaintain fried, smashed, and re-fried, seasoned with pork, sofrito, and garlic.  Usually its stuffed with a meat of some kind and topped with a garlic based criollo sauce. So, mofongo de yuca is a new food trend on the island where chefs substitute the plantain with yuca; the remaining portion of the preparation is the same. 

About 25 minutes later, my dish arrived and I was ever so excited to see a mound of yuca, big and perfectly cooked shrimp, sauteed onions and peppers, and a rich but light garlic sauce placed before me.  The most simple way that I can describe the taste of the Mofongo de Yuca is that it was what I would imagine fried mashed potatoes to be, except with more flavor.  I definately prefer this to the starchy and heavy Mofongo de Platano. As they appear, the shrimp were perfectly cooked and seasoned, with a nice bite without being rubbery.

Just when I thought things couldn't get better, I cracked the top of my mofongo dome to find more yummy shrimp stuffed inside! The garlic sauce had also made its way inside the cavern, and since all of these flavors married while I attacked the outside of this food tower I would venture to say that the shrimp inside the dome were more flavorful than the ones outside.  Overall I was incredibly pleased with this dish, even thought I techincally at Puerto Rican food at a Cuban restaurant.

For some reason, if you land in Fajardo and want a quick, reasonably priced meal check out Metropol! Its located right off of Highway 3, across the street from Wal-Mart and the McDonalds in Fajardo so its close to where the biobay and kayaking takes place.  Hopefully, you will be able to sample some of their actual Cuban cuisine, but if not the Puerto Rican food is for the most part on point.

PTA. Del East Sur Food Court
Fajardo, Puerto Rico

Overall Ranking:
Food: 3 out of 5 fros
Service: 2.5 out of 5 fros


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