The first time I was in Puerto Rico, my aunt Sandra made the most amazing fried plantains. She called them spiders, and they're made by grating green plantains and dropping little handfuls into hot oil to deep-fry, then salting the crap out of them. Only slightly less amazing were her tostones, which are made by something like frying them twice and flattening them in between. I think there might be a salt water soak in there somewhere too. Whatever the process is, though, they're salty and crunchy and delicious.
Last week I tried a Salvadoran restaurant on Columbia Pike in Arlington. When I saw fried plantains on the menu I immediately thought of my aunt's tostones, and had no choice but to order them. What came out of the kitchen? A ripe plantain that had been sliced in half lengthwise and fried until slightly crispy on the outside and mushy on the inside. Not terrible, but not what I was expecting at all, and a huge disappointment.
Fast forward to Thursday night at Cuba Libre. I saw tostones on the menu and thought they must be delicious, since they had the same name! Unfortunately, what arrived were huge, bland, mealy patties with a slightly crispy crust and some salt on the outside. The sauce they came with was ok, but they were not what I remembered tostones to be. We didn't even finish them.
I love Latin American food, but the pupusas at the first place were only ok, and Cuba Libre was downright disappointing (how do you end up with dry braised short ribs?). Have I become a huge food snob? It's definitely possible, considering the way I turn my nose up at tomato sauce out of a jar and Domino's pizza. But I've had amazing pupusas (at a panaderia in Annandale in the H Mart shopping center. They were out of this world, I swear. Side note: I learned there that a panaderia is not an empanada shop, so don't be surprised if you walk into one and they don't have any empanadas no matter how perfect a snack you think they would be at that moment.), and I remember the ropa vieja I made a few years ago as being delicious (in fairness, the ropa vieja in the arepas at Cuba Libre was decent, if nothing mindblowing).
Does anyone know where to get amazing Cuban food? Or should I just turn to Cuban friends and make my own?
As a side note, does anyone have an opinion about my adding the occasional ethnic restaurant review to this blog?