Thursday, January 21, 2016

Los Mexicanos: Excellence Without Pretention

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I got a late start in our quest for dinner yesterday. It was around 6:30, but we figured our chances of getting seated would be fairly good since many of the early-bird diners would be clearing out. Wrong!

There was a 30 minute wait at J.D.'s, 20 or more at Keegan's, and packed parking lots at a few other venues. We were verging on heading home and just gorging on bread and water when I spied a couple of parking spots in front of Los Mexicanos Mexican restaurant at 301 Gulf Boulevard in Indian Rocks. We had driven past Los Mexicanos on numerous occasions, but for some reason we never stopped ... until last night.

We were greeted at the door and guided to an awaiting booth where salsa, chips and menus promptly appeared. Los Mexicanos has a full bar so we decided to put the barkeep to work whipping up a couple of traditional Margaritas.

As the tequila began warming our bodies and mellowing our minds I surveyed our surroundings. I felt at ease and comfortable ... like being transported back to some of our favorite dining spots in Mexico: the no-name place on the road to Coba, Denis in San Miguel on the island of Cozumel, any number of quaint venues in Punta Bete or Batopilas.

There was nothing particularly surprising on the rather extensive menu, just the usual bill of fare one would expect in a Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant here in the States. There were at least six vegetarian items for those who eschew meat, but I must agree with John Cleese, "If God did not intend for us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat?" 

And, meat it was for the two of us. Mi esposa chose the Enchiladas Rancheras: three steak enchiladas with ranchero sauce, fresh cheese, sour cream, rice and beans.

Said she, "The beef was tender and juicy, the salsa verde was savory without being muy caliente." The rice was rice, the beans were beans, but this was a most filling and flavorful dish.

The Carnitas Rancheras was my choice for a main course with fried pork chunks served with rice, beans and salsa.

The fried pork was tender to the tooth and bathed in a perfectly seasoned salsa roja that complimented the arroz amarillo.

The food, adult beverages, prices, surroundings and the service was excellent without being pretentious. With four Margaritas our total for the evening came to a very pleasant $40.66. We tacked on an additional 20% for our server Eric.

I can definitely see Los Mexicanos being one of our regular dining spots on the beach.

Los Mexicanos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato  

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Yes, I Kan Kan, Pork Chop

The most delicious and memorable meal consumed by me while in Puerto Rico a few years ago was the Kan Kan Pork Chop at Restaurante Raices in San Juan. This dish was invented in one of the more famous Puerto Rican restaurants outside of San Juan, La Guardarraya ("The Guardrail") in Guayanilla. These chops include the loin, belly and skin - the three best parts of the pig combined.

I have been dreaming of that chop ever since and recently I discovered a Kan Kan Chop close to our stately pleasure dome by the boulevard of gastronomic delights - Gulf Boulevard at Indian Shores. Actually, La Fondita de Leo is in Clearwater, but let's not quibble. It's closer than San Juan.

The Belle of the Boulevard and I had planned on an adventurous Suncoast Beach Trolley ride to La Fondita, but at the last minute we were upgraded to a 2016 Mercedes Benz luxury ride to the restaurant in our daughter's brand new buggy. Mish and Maj picked us up and we boogied to this Puerto Rican eatery on Cleveland Street around 4:30-ish for a late lunch or early dinner. La Fondita opens at 11 o'clock.

The four of us wandered in to this vast space with pressed-tin ceilings and a long full bar next to the main dining room. The dining room could have been taken directly from Old San Juan, with a Spartan decor and many hard surfaces that echo with laughter and camaraderie when the family get-togethers get cranked up. This is definitely a family oriented establishment.

We were seated at a four-top in the main dining room. Service, we soon discovered, seem to function on island time. There was much scurrying about, but it took awhile for our server to stop for us. When Jose arrived he took our drink orders: a Medalla Light for me (they no longer carry this Puerto Rican beer, so I switched to a bottle of Bud), a couple of mojitos, and a Margarita.

With adult beverages in hand, we eyed the appetizer choices and selected three: the Ceviche Mixto, Chorizos al Vino, and Croquetas de Jamón.

The mixed ceviche of shrimp and fish "cooked" in citrus juices was served with fried plaintains (tostones) and deemed to be a very savory start to our cena homenaje.

I had seriously considered the ceviche, but for this dining adventure I wanted to try something different and the chorizos braised with onions in white wine just called my name.

The silky smooth braising liquid with juicy sausage coins and al dente onions was a real treat for the taste buds.

The Croquetas de Jamón consisted of rich tasting ground ham coated with breading and deep fried, then served with a light aioli.

Other than the rather slow service, the next negative of the evening occurred when all of our entrees were brought out before we had completed our appetizers. This caused great confusion at the table since there wasn't room enough for all of the plates. Should we ever return to La Fondita, I will have to insist that we be allowed to finish our appetizers before our main dishes are brought to the table. This was something we never had to put up with while on the island.

As my not-quite-finished chorizo was removed from the table, the whole reason for my visit appeared. Oh my, that Kan Kan Chop looked just like the one in San Juan. As an aside; La Fondita spells it Can Can, but either spelling is acceptable.

The crispy pork skin (chicharrón) coupled with the fatty, juicy pork belly, and the tender, flavorful loin brought to mind savory, delicious memories of San Juan. The side of Mofongo is an Afro-Puerto Rican dish with fried plantains as its main ingredient.

My lovely bride chose as her main course the Chicken Mamposteao, a chicken, rice and bean dish, similar to, but distinct from, arroz con gandules.

Our daughter had the Pork Tenderloin with a slightly sweet guava sauce and a side of rice and beans that seemed to please her and appease the pains of hunger.

Our son-in-law had the Skirt Steak, a tender and flavorful dish with the the ubiquitous sides of rice and beans.

Our total bill for all food and beverage came in at a rather pricey $200. We added an extra 20% gratuity for Jose.

La Fondita de Leo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato